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Should Saudi Arabia Host Professional Boxing Cards?

By: Sean Crose

Earlier this month WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk signed with Saudi Arabia’s Skill Challenge Promotions.  This, obviously, means that Usyk plans on fighting in the Middle Eastern Kingdom as he did last year when he bested former titlist Anthony Joshua in Jeddah. Indeed, numerous big fights have been held in Saudi Arabia in recent years, such as Joshua’s rematch with Andy Ruiz and Jake Paul’s recent defeat to Tommy Fury. Clearly, Saudi Arabia is appealing to the fight game. The country’s reputation, however, raises some ethical questions.

“Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollars hosting major entertainment, cultural, and sporting events to deflect from the country’s poor human rights record,” claims human rights organization Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia has announced important reforms, but the repression of independent civil society and critical voices impedes any attempt at reform.” According to HRW, the Saudi government isn’t nearly as open to differing opinions as it is to high level fights.

“Scores of human rights activists and dissidents are in prison or on trial for their peaceful criticism,” the organization claims. What’s more, HRW adds that “authorities failed to hold high-level officials accountable for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.” These are distinctly not the the kind of charges a fine reputation rests upon. No surprise, then, that some aren’t entirely comfortable with high end boxing cards going down in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, boxing isn’t the only sport to be aligning with Saudi Arabia in a big way. The PGA recently aligned itself with Saudi supported LIV Golf. This headline making pairing has led to much criticism. “I still await Saudi acknowledgement of their role in the attacks of 9/11, which resulted in the loss of innocent lives of 3000 of my fellow American Citizens,” famed golfer Tom Watson has written. “I support 9/11 Families United and their efforts to release supporting exculpatory US Government documents.” Although professional boxing has no single organization that’s as prominent as the PGA is in professional golf, questions of ethics and propriety are still being raised.

What’s more, boxing itself has had anything but a stellar reputation over the years. Whether it’s financial shenanigans, poor judging or even criminal involvement, the sport’s reputation as the red light district of sports is sadly well deserved. Also worth noting is the fact that, taken in their entireties, most nations are more than the sum of their flaws. Whatever decision boxing’s power players are making, however, one can at least hope those decisions are being made in good conscience.

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