Many major sporting events have begun to be hosted in Saudi Arabia, largely because of the enormous amounts of money the Saudis are offering to lure them to the kingdom. And whenever the WWE or some other major league goes there, it makes it easier for the organizers of the next one to pliantly accept the riches and ignore the human rights abuses happening before their eyes.
The latest is boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, who used the presence of other events in Saudi Arabia as justification for bringing the Dec. 7 rematch of the IBF-WBA-WBO heavyweight title between champion Andy Ruiz Jr. and former champion Anthony Joshua to Diriyah, a small city outside of Riyadh, the capital.
DAZN will stream the event in the U.S. Whether any of the women who work on its production staff will be able to make the trip is questionable, given the way that Saudi Arabia treats women. And if anyone at DAZN or with Hearn’s Matchroom Sport is gay, well, good luck.
But it’s easy for many to overlook the enormous human rights abuses and take the money, which is millions more than anyone else in the world was willing to put up.
Hearn wouldn’t talk to Yahoo Sports about the outrageous decision but did respond via text to make the expected response:
“I’m following the World Boxing Super Series final, the recent [Amir] Khan fight, the European Golf Tour, Formula 1, WWE, the Saudi Cup (horse racing) and many other huge events and organizations.”
This is true, but as children, we were taught not to do something just because somebody else was doing it.
There has been a rapid increase of money spent by Saudi Arabia to bring high-profile sports events there following the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi there last October. It’s almost as if it’s an effort to cover up the atrocities by getting the world to turn its attention away from the abuses to look at major sporting events.
The fight ended up in Saudi Arabia primarily because of money, but also because Ruiz didn’t want to do a rematch with Joshua in the United Kingdom, where Joshua is from. The original contract Ruiz signed for their June 1 fight in New York, which Ruiz won by shocking seventh-round TKO, gave Hearn and Joshua the right to put a potential rematch at the site of their choice.
Hearn had a deal to put the fight in Cardiff, Wales. Ruiz didn’t want to give Joshua that advantage, but when Dillian Whyte was able to fight Oscar Rivas on July 20 on a Hearn-promoted show in London despite having failed an anti-doping test, Ruiz stiffened. He refused to go to the U.K. to fight, so it made it easy for Hearn to take the money from the Saudis.
Pliant journalists have leaped to Hearn’s defense without a thought of the significance of their actions. A half-hour or so after Hearn messaged his response by listing the events that have gone to Saudi Arabia, a boxing journalist texted me almost verbatim what Hearn had said in defense of taking the fight to Saudi Arabia.
Agnes Callamard is the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. She found the kingdom had planned Khashoggi’s murder. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on July 9, Callamard wrote:
“As detailed in my report to the United Nations last month, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible for Khashoggi’s extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearance and torture. The evidence suggests that 15 Saudi agents acted under their official status and used state resources to commit murder. High-level officials in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, oversaw the elaborate planning, which involved private jets, diplomatic clearances, a forensic doctor and Saudi consular staff in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia has since failed to investigate the crime in good faith.”
According to Amnesty International, Saudi authorities, “severely restricted the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Many human rights defenders and government critics, including women’s rights activists, were arbitrarily detained. The public prosecution called for the execution of Shi’a activists and religious clerics for expressing dissent. Many activists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms … ”
While women have only recently won the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International noted women faced systematic discrimination in law and practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence.”
DAZN severely cut the license fee it paid Hearn for the right to broadcast the fight, which is well short of what it should have done, flat-out refusing to do business there.
Having the fight in Saudi Arabia certainly won’t help it gain subscribers. The place it should have been was Las Vegas, which would have attracted a massive gate, probably in excess of $30 million, and would have enabled DAZN to maximize its subscribers.
Hearn’s not the first and not the last to ignore the kinds of ethical challenges that are presented here.
But if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we’re bound to repeat them.
It’s beyond sad this event, which could have been a joyous night of celebration, instead will go on in a tiny venue with real fans of the sport excluded and in front of government officials with blood on their hands.
This could have and should have been avoided, but money spoke much louder than human rights and ethics.
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