Joshua-Ruiz rematch puts Saudi sportswashing back in the ring

Joshua-Ruiz rematch puts Saudi sportswashing back in the ring
Comment: Lured by vast sums of money, the boxing elite has opted to bury its head in the sand when it comes to Saudi Arabia's shameful record, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
05 Dec, 2019
'Hearn [C] provides the perfect platform for Saudi's sinister propaganda offensive' writes Hamad [Getty]
This weekend Andy Ruiz Jr, the world's first Mexican-American heavyweight champion, will defend his belts against Britain's Anthony Joshua. 

The fight, clumsily titled 'Clash on the Dunes', is the rematch following Ruiz's upset of then champion, Joshua, in May.  

For boxing fans this ought to be the fight of the year. But for those with a conscience, it's difficult to square the potential marvel of the fight with its less than marvellous location.  

The town of Diriyah, just north of Riyadh, will play host to the fight, after the Saudis made Eddie Hearn - who is the promoter of Joshua and the fight, and who admits he "loves a pound note," - an offer he couldn't refuse. Hearn's newfound friends in Saudi offered a staggering $108 million for the fight.

Hearn has tried to promote the fight to the world as a "game changer" in terms of introducing top end boxing to "the region". Listening to him wax lyrical, Hearn is clearly desperate to project his motivation as more about pioneering, than the reality of merciless profiteering. 

But the fact that he feels the need to do this betrays the lack of conscience or even remote concern for the fact that Saudi has, without any doubt, one of the worst track records of all when it comes to 
human rights abuses.

The reality of this situation isn't one determined by ignorance, but rather, as is the zeitgeist, by callous indifference. The power relations that shape the hosting of this fight are symptomatic of a world where self-interest and personal ambition override principle and conscience.  

Hearn claims to have been captured by Saudi's 'vision'

People like Hearn, as well as Sky Sports and all the corporate entities that are invested in the fight, provide the perfect platform for Saudi's sinister propaganda offensive.

Hearn claims to have been captured by Saudi Arabia's 'vision'.  

Critics of Saudi know precisely what this 'vision', overseen by Mohammed bin Salman entails, and know its cost.

In fact, that cost even has a face and name, namely that of
Jamal Khashoggi - a name that will never cross the lips of anyone invested in this sordid spectacle in Diriyah. 

The fact that the event is taking place only a couple months after the 
first anniversary of the brutal murder of Khashoggi, who was murdered in Istanbul by Saudi assassins likely working on orders from MbS, tells us just how quickly the world forgets - assuming that world ever registered this crime.

Of course Khashoggi is just one of many victims of the Saudi regime, but his prominence as a critic of the regime and the global nature of his murder ought to have been enough to make Saudi an international pariah. 

Instead, all we saw was a wave of superficial bluster by the "democratic" West regarding the killing - those who thought tough words equated to tough action perhaps don't understand the nuances of damage limitation.

The main message the world sent to MbS following the murder of Khashoggi has been to instruct the young prince to make sure Saudi Arabia's murderous nature doesn't boil over into Europe's doorstep or into the global public consciousness; keep the death confined to the dungeons, gallows and execution chambers within your own borders.

Ensure the bodies of the victims of your vicious totalitarian theocracy - the women's rights activists, social reformersShia rights activists and democrats - are locked away in dungeons or buried beneath the dunes.   

Keep the war crimes - the starvation, bombing and maiming - concentrated on nameless Yemenis. Just try to refrain from murdering and dismembering US-based journalists who write for the Washington Post, on foreign soil.  

When faced with Amnesty's criticism, Hearn, instead of even paying lip service to the obvious brutality of Saudi, actually suggested to the Guardian that the "negative publicity" could boost the profile of the fight. Perhaps he'd like Saudi to execute a few more journalists? It might sell a few more pay-per-views?  

And what of Joshua? Given he's gone out of his way to become a media-friendly role model, has he nothing to say about Saudi Arabia's gross human rights violations? 

All he could 
muster was the tired old argument that it's better to "engage" with Saudi as opposed to "pointing fingers and shouting from Great Britain".  

The noxious Hearn chipped in by suggesting that Joshua fighting in Saudi could "open up a whole new world for him".

In Othello, the Machiavellian antagonist Iago sums up his diabolical strategy of plotting the downfall of the titular character, by saying "when devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows".  

Though boxing might not quite be a "heavenly show", these events go a long way to normalise the "blackest sins". 

The "reforms" MbS has undertaken have entailed 
brutally cracking down on genuine reformers in order to secure the monarchy, while paving the way for the kingdom to cater to the global super-rich.

This quiet complicity is very much the order of the day

Those who can cough up over $10,000 for a ticket to the fight might come away telling people how wonderful it was, as was the case previously with the UFC and WWE in Saudi Arabia, but they'll have seen nothing of the reality of its totalitarian order.

Yes, within these tiny enclaves, women will be able to act freely and totalitarianism will be suspended for the super-rich patrons and the global audience. But the Saudi Arabia beyond that, of beheadings, crucifixions, religious persecution, gender apartheid and bombing Yemen into oblivion, will be out of sight and out of mind. 

All those involved in the fight, whether it's the boxing journalists, promoters, or the fighters themselves, will be required to suspend their own principles, and bury their heads in the sand.

This quiet complicity is very much the order of the day, though it's not just Saudi Arabia. This is the blueprint for the world, as we can see from Eurovision being held without much controversy in Israel, and Putin's Russia playing host to the FIFA World Cup, with glowing reviews.

This is a world where death, destruction, human misery  and tyranny can be so readily normalised, and cast aside with appeals to mass entertainment, and the proclivities of the global elites.  

If you watch any sport these days, you must come to terms with the fact that profit triumphs over all. Now that events with the magnitude of the "Clash on the Dunes" are being held in Saudi Arabia, its up to audiences to determine if they will allow tyranny to prosper at the expense of real people.  

If you'll pardon the pun, you can count me out.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.