Use of sport to promote interests of unsavoury regimes on the rise
The latest example is the heavyweight fight in Saudi Arabia involving Anthony Joshua. The fight was approved by the WBA, the World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation.
Readers of this site need no introduction into the unpleasantness of the Saudi Regime. Its activities in Yemen we have featured many times on these pages. With British and American support
and armaments, it has carried out a bombing campaign in that country with little regard to international human rights law. Schools, hospitals, wedding ceremonies and civilian areas generally have been bombed sometimes using what is called ‘double tap’ that is, going in for a second time when the aid workers arrive causing extra mayhem.
Human rights are low on the agenda with floggings, torture, amputations and executions the norm. There have been 148 executions so far this year. Women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority have all been targeted. But never mind, there’s money to be made in them there dunes so lets go for it.
There has been a wide range of criticism of the boxer himself and the promoters, Matchroom Sport for taking the Saudi shilling for this event thus taking part in an attempt to sanitise the regime. They denied the charge that they were sportswashing.
Never mind the stonings, public executions, or human rights, Eddie Hearn is more than happy to follow the money
Daily Telegraph, 16 August (Eddie Hearn is Joshua’s promoter)
What does Anthony Joshua himself say? He is reported not to have known who Amnesty International was saying in a BBC interview that he spent most of his time in Finchley training.
I appreciate them [Amnesty] voicing an opinion. And it’s good to talk about issues in the world. But I’m there to fight. If I want to put on my cape where I’m going to save the world, we all have to do it together. The questions and the things that are happening in the world in general can’t be left to one man to solve. We all have to make a difference.”
I’ve actually been to Saudi Arabia and I’m building a relationship, Some of the questions that the world has to ask, maybe I could be a spokesman? It’s a blessing and they can speak back. And that’s relationship building, rather than just accusing, pointing fingers and shouting from Great Britain. In order to ask questions, and people that may want to make change, you have to go and get involved. Daily Telegraph 6 September 2019
Matchroom’s site makes only scant mention of the human rights aspect. “We are an independent company of passionate individuals” it tells us on its site: presumably the passion is confined to sport.
Of course, Joshua is not the first and certainly not the last to be involved in the process of sportwashing regimes such as Saudi Arabia. His ‘crime’ of agreeing to fight in the kingdom does not compare with the UK government’s support and agreeing to the supply of arms to this regime over many years. Members of the Royal Family have been happy to get engaged with a fellow royal family.
The difference is that this fight will have been seen by millions hence the purse of £40 million that Joshua will earn (there are other higher figures). Those millions of viewers are likely to be left with an impression that it is all right to engage with such a regime. But they have been willing stooges in the process of trying to sanitise them and its attempts to make a comeback after the murder of Khashoggi.
Sport has had its fair share of scandals. Doping, cheating, bribery: a seemingly endless stream of less than salubrious behaviour. FIFA and the Olympics are replete with corruption. To many, Joshua is a hero and on the sporting front he no doubt is. But as a hero he has a responsibility, as do those behind him, to recognise the influence he has on followers. Some day, the sporting fraternity are going to have to recognise the role they play in shaping people’s – particularly young people’s – minds and the influence they have. And that may mean saying ‘no’ to performing in a country where women have few rights and are imprisoned for seeking them, where torture is a way of life, and hacking off heads and limbs part of the legal system. Good way to earn £40 million.
Last word to Matchroom:
We got criticized for coming here but these people have been amazing. The vision they have for boxing in this region is incredible and they delivered. [Accessed 8 December]
Sources: Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Amnesty