Heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. will attempt to replicate his incredible victory over Anthony Joshua in the replay on Saturday. It’s a dramatic sports story and probably the biggest battle of the year, but the divisive venue — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — is surrounded by a dark shadow.
Why it matters: Saudi Arabia’s global reputation was severely affected a year ago by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the country is accused of organizing sporting events to distract attention from that scandal and other human rights abuses while rebranding itself and boosting tourism.
In addition to boxing, there were all recently staged WWE wrestling, ATP Tour golf, Formula E racing, and the Italian Super Cup (soccer).
It will be hosting the Dakar rally, the Spanish Super Cup, an international tennis competition, and a European Tour golf tournament in the coming month alone (Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy turned down multi-million dollar fees).
What they say: the promoter of Joshua, Eddie Hearn, sees nothing wrong with hosting Saudi Arabia’s war. “In taking in activities, the Saudis want a more positive image internationally. But isn’t that what they should be doing?
“The plan is to make super boxing back for Saudi Arabia,” said Hearn. “With due respect to Las Vegas, but this venue can bring whatever fight they want here. I do agree that no one has the right to tell a boxer when and where they can earn their money.” On the other hand: Amnesty International cautioned that the Saudis are using this fight to “sports wash” their reputation.
“All over the globe, nations use sport to portray a friendly image on the international scene, which often hides a very different reality of ordinary people living in those countries — and when the media circus rolls out of town, things go back to being as grim as ever.” The bottom line: “Another prosperous new frontier has arisen in the world of sport.