On the 7th December, Britain’s Anthony Joshua will attempt to reclaim the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO world titles he lost to Mexico’s Andy Ruiz Jr, and avenge the sole defeat of his career. Exciting, right? Well, not for everyone.
The stage is set for one of the biggest matches of the year, but it is where that stage is being set that is upsetting fans, and other members of the boxing community alike. Saudi Arabia is a country known for its human rights violations, such as imposing the death penalty for homosexuality. Yet it is the outskirts of the capital city Riyadh, that will be host to 15,000 onlookers of Britain’s London 2012 Olympic Gold Medallist.
Felix Jakens, the Head of Campaigns for Amnesty International UK, accused Saudi leaders of using sport to attempt to mask the public’s perception of travesties, such as the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen. Tolls number thousands of civilian deaths, with many more due to a famine caused by the ongoing conflict.
However, their appeals appear to have failed where New York-based Human Rights Foundation’s succeeded in getting Nicki Minaj to pull out of the Jeddah World Fest in July this year.
With Amir Khan’s fourth-round stoppage of Australian Billy Dib bordering upon an exhibition, Joshua’s bout will be, for many, the largest Saudi sporting event in recent memory. Promoter Eddie Hearn believes this will be, “helpful to Saudi Arabia’s progress in the field of human rights”.
But will Joshua publicly speak against the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Will he condemn the imprisonment of women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul? It seems not, with the Briton commenting that he expects the boxing, “to open up the barriers”, stating that he will, “abide by the law”, and those who cannot attend, “can still watch”.
Joshua should take the fight – not only to Ruiz Jr – but to Saudi policies on human rights, with the chance to encourage acceptance in of one of the most hostile nations on Earth. However, it appears that Joshua’s latest career move – although not a wrong one, will be an opportunity missed.