One of the world’s leading human rights organizations has spoken out against the decision to host the rematch between Oleksander Usyk vs. Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty International stated that it was “no surprise” that yet another major international sports event was set to take place in the kingdom, though added it was time for athletes to use this as an opportunity to speak up on human rights issues.
“As we said with golfers in the LIV series and with the sale of Newcastle United, we’d like to see high-profile sporting figures speaking out about human rights to break the malign spell of Saudi sportswashing,” said Peter Frankel, economic affairs director at Amnesty International UK.
“We would urge Anthony Joshua to use his platform to show solidarity with those who’ve been persecuted under Mohammed bin Salman’s sweeping crackdowns.”
The Usky vs. Joshua rematch is the latest example of how Saudi Arabia is using sports to distract from its well-documented human rights abuses. The tactic is known as sportswashing and it allows dictators to launder their image by investing in prestigious events such as the biggest boxing event of the year.
By 2021, Saudi had already spent at least $1.5 billion on high-profile international sports and entertainment events, including a long-term deal with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), golf, tennis and horse-racing. Earlier this year, the kingdom purchased Premier League team Newcastle United through its public investment fund, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman.
The strategic investment in sports is part of the kingdom’s ‘Vision 2030’ masterplan that aims to reduce Saudi’s economic dependence on oil. However, the plan also led to a brutal crackdown on dissent, including feminist activists, religious clerics and opposition leaders.
Saudi has also continued to wage war in Yemen, which has led to a humanitarian crisis among the worst in the world, with widespread hunger, disease and attacks on civilians. More than four million people have fled their homes while another 21 million are in need of humanitarian aid and assistance.
The Usyk vs. Joshua rematch is scheduled to take place on Aug. 20 at the Jeddah Super Dome in Saudi Arabia.