Growing criticism surrounds the bout due to Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record
— Sky Sports Boxing (@SkySportsBoxing) August 9, 2019
The decision to stage a rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. has drawn heavy criticism from human rights group Amnesty International.
Saudi Arabia has hosted several fights in recent times, including Amir Khan’s win over Billy Dib and Callum Smith’s World Boxing Super Series victory against George Groves.
However, the middle east country’s “abysmal human rights record” has been called into question by Amnesty International UK, which urged Joshua to “inform himself of the human rights situation” ahead of the rematch.
“If Anthony Joshua fights Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia, it’s likely to be yet another opportunity for the Saudi authorities to try to ‘sportswash’ their severely tarnished image,” said Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Campaigns.
“Despite some long-overdue reforms on women’s rights, Saudi Arabia is currently in the grip of a sweeping human rights crackdown — with women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority community all being targeted.
“There’s been no justice over the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen is carrying out indiscriminate attacks on homes, hospitals and market-places with horrific consequences for Yemeni civilians.”
Joshua, who suffered a shock defeat when the heavyweight pair first met in New York City in June, announced Friday that the rematch would be held in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh, on December 7.
“Neutral grounds — LETS GO [sic],” the 29-year-old wrote on social media about the fight which is being dubbed the “Clash on the Dunes.”
Hearn said that he and Joshua had understood that holding the rematch for the WBA, IBF and WBO belts in Saudi Arabia would have its “pluses and minuses” – but had been persuaded by the “vision” the country had to promote boxing.
“I can’t tell you that money had nothing to do with it but it was more about the infrastructure and the fact they have done it before,” said Hearn. “We had to be very comfortable because we knew there would be criticism. And we also looked at the bigger picture. If he wins this fight it opens up a whole new world for him and for boxing. It could change the sport forever.
“He’s always had the mindset of boxing all round the world. I expect him to box not just in Saudi Arabia but in Nigeria and in China. That’s an iconic global fighter, not just someone who boxes in Cardiff and Madison Square Garden.”
when Hearn was asked whether the fight would damage Joshua’s reputation, he was clear. “I don’t think AJ thinks so,” he replied, before suggesting the negative publicity could actually make the fight successful.
When asked directly about Amnesty’s criticisms, Hearn was blunt. “I knew that when we made the decision not every response would be positive, and that there would be criticism and controversy,” he said. “I’m a boxing promoter and sometimes the criticism and the curiosity will lead to an event of an extraordinary magnitude.”
Hearn stressed that he hoped the fight would go down as another Rumble in the Jungle or Thrilla in Manila – and also be the start of a massive fresh revenue stream for him and Joshua.
“If Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region start investing in sport the whole game will change,” he added. “If people aren’t on board with that, and don’t realise the potential for sport in those regions, we are all idiots. 70% of public there is under 24.
“Every promoter in the world has tried to land a mega fight in these territories – Al Haymon, Bob Arum, Golden Boy – but we’re the first ones to actually do it,” he added. “I want to make sure we deliver for Saudi Arabia. If they are willing to make the financial investment in the sport that’s great for me.”