By: Sean Crose
“The plan,” promoter Eddie Hearn says via the Guardian “is to make Saudi Arabia the home of mega boxing. All due respect to Las Vegas, but this place has the ability to bring any fight they want here. We had a great meeting with them (Saudi officials) last night.” Such braggadocio is raising a few eyebrows on the eve of Saturday’s highly anticipated matchup between defending WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titlist Andy Ruiz, and the man he defeated last spring, the popular and thunderous punching Anthony Joshua. Although the Saudi Arabian location for the much hyped rematch is seen by some as unique and even exotic, there are those who strongly feel Saudi Arabia’s reputation for human rights abuses is problematic.
Yet Hearn, who represents Joshua, is quick to point out that he’s not the only Westerner doing business in the controversial kingdom. “I was driving up and down the road last night,” the Guardian quotes the promoter as saying, “thinking of all the criticism I’ve been getting. And I passed Gucci, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Versace and Ralph Lauren.” Hearn also claims that, in a sense, none of this is anyone’s business other than the people involved. “Although it is easy for us to also say Formula E, the tennis Super Cup, and the PGA Tour is here too,” he argues, “I also believe that no one has the right to tell a fighter how and where they can earn their money.”
For it’s own part, Saudi Arabia has gone out of it’s way to come across as just the kind of place promoters would want to turn to for big money, high profile events. A glistening arena that can sit fifteen thousand people has been erected just outside capital of Diriyah. The entire facility, which was essentially built in a matter of weeks, has drawn much attention from the media. Hearn has done his part to put a smiling face on the matter, being quoted in the Independant as saying he thinks this weekend’s fight can “break down barriers.”
Human rights organization Amnesty International, on the other hand, is clearly displeased with the bout’s unique location. “Despite the hype over supposed reforms,” Amnesty’s Felix Jakens told The Guardian last September, “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.” Although Saudi Arabia stands accused of having such things as torture and beheadings allowed within its borders, Hearn claims the country is changing for the better. “The Saudis want to show they are changing,” Hearn claims, via the Guardian. “And they want a more positive image worldwide by bringing in events.”
Although it’s being accused of “sportswashing” it’s unsavory elements, the Saudi government may well be handsomely rewarded by it’s foray into high level boxing. Then again, no one can be certain how things will eventually work out. On Wednesday the Sun reported that “tickets for Anthony Joshua’s rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr has thought to have only sold around 75 per cent, with just over 11,000 fans expected at the arena in Saudi Arabia.”