Saudi Arabia has a history when it comes to human rights violations. The most recent has been the alleged state-sponsored assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October last year.
So it is natural that when an international event is announced in Saudi Arabia, heads turn. The 2018 Supercoppa Italiana, played at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, in January this year created quite a stir. Both politicians and rights activists were unhappy with the agreement. Likewise, WWE also faced criticism for scheduling their pay-per-view Super ShowDown at the same venue in June this year.
The issue has once again taken the center-stage with the announcement that the biggest fight in the heavyweight division – Andy Ruiz Jr. vs Anthony Joshua – will take place on December 7 this year in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh. This will be a rematch of their first encounter in June this year. After accepting the fight on a short notice, Ruiz Jr. had scored a major upset by defeating Joshua to win the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles and become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. Andy Ruiz Jr. has vowed to retire Anthony Joshua with a win.
It is worth noting that in August, Andy Ruiz Jr., for reasons best known to him, had expressed his displeasure with the selection of Saudi Arabia as the venue for the bout. He wanted the fight to take place in New York.
Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn addressed the issue and hoped that this match between the two – dubbed the "Clash of the Dunes" would – “change boxing forever.”
Speaking at a media conference in London Manager Hearn said:
"I knew that when we made the decision not every response would be positive, and that there would be criticism and controversy. I'm a boxing promoter and sometimes the criticism and the curiosity will lead to an event of an extraordinary magnitude."
It appears that Hearn has taken some inspiration from the title of the book ‘Controversy Creates Cash’, written by WWE's Eric Bischoff. Is he looking at this controversy as means to attract more viewership to this event?
Organizers in Saudi Arabia have put forward a reported fee of $40m (£33m) to host the event. Anthony Joshua and his team, though, are not willing to back down on the issue. Soon after the controversy broke, he said:
"It’s good to talk about issues in the world. But I’m there to fight. If I want to put on my cape where I’m going to save the world, we all have to do it together. The questions and the things that are happening in the world in general can’t be left to one man to solve. We all have to make a difference.”
According to The Guardian, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns Felix Jakens said that any talk of reforms in the country could not be trusted.
“Despite the hype over supposed reforms, Saudi Arabia is actually in the midst of a sweeping human rights crackdown, with women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority community being targeted. Civil society has also been silenced in Saudi Arabia. Anyone critical of the regime has been exiled, arrested, or threatened. There isn’t any semblance of free speech or the right to protest.”
Whatever be the case, there is no doubt that this bout is going to gain a lot of attention. And just so you know, this won't be the last big-ticket event to be held in Saudi Arabia as the country hopes to host the world's richest horse race in 2020.Published 20 Sep 2019, 13:57 IST