Nigerian heavyweight boxer, Anthony Olaseni Oluwafemi Joshua has come under fire, alongside world title holder, Andy Ruiz Jnr of Mexico, for agreeing to stage their rematch in Saudi Arabia.
Although Ruiz, who was born in California but has Mexican parents, earlier made calls for the rematch to hold in Tijuana, where he made his professional debut in 2009, while ‘AJ’ proposed The Principality Stadium in Wales, the site of two professional victories, the promoters, led by Eddie Hearn opted to stage the December 7 fight ‘on the dunes.’
The decision, though, has drawn heavy criticism globally, with leading human rights group, Amnesty International at the head of condemnation for Joshua, who suffered a shock defeat when the heavyweight pair first met at Madison Square Garden, New York City in June 1st.
Amnesty International and other human rights bodies are crying foul over the decision to have the bout in ‘restricted’ Saudi Arabia, which was announced Friday, with the venue in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh.
The 29-year-old Joshua argued that the fight, which is being dubbed the ‘Clash on the Dunes,’ is holding on ‘neutral grounds,’ but critics are having nothing of it, despite Saudi Arabi having also hosted some previous high profile sporing events before now.
Saudi Arabia has hosted a number of fights in recent times, including Amir Khan’s win over Billy Dib and Callum Smith’s World Boxing Super Series victory against George Groves.
It also welcomed the opening race of the 2018-19 Formule E season, motorsport’s all-electric race series, and will stage the world’s richest horse race — with a prize purse of $20 million — next year.
However, Amnesty International UK has called into question what they call the Islamic Middle East country’s “abysmal human rights record” and urged Joshua to “inform himself of the human rights situation” ahead of the rematch, which comes sequel to his seventh-round stoppage during the original fight in Madison Square Garden.
That was Joshua’s first defeat in his career, and he will look to regain the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles he ceded to Ruiz, who was crowned Mexico’s first ever heavyweight champion, but Amnesty International UK’s Head of Campaigns, Felix Jakens insists the venue is not just right.
Jakens stressed: “If Anthony Joshua fights Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia, it’s likely to be yet another opportunity for the Saudi authorities to try to ‘sportswash’ their severely tarnished image.
“Despite some long-overdue reforms on women’s rights, Saudi Arabia is currently in the grip of a sweeping human rights crackdown — with women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority community all being targeted.
“There’s been no justice over the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen is carrying out indiscriminate attacks on homes, hospitals and market-places with horrific consequences for Yemeni civilians.”