Anthony Joshua, Andy Ruiz Jr to rematch in Saudi Arabia

Anthony Joshua, Andy Ruiz Jr to rematch in Saudi Arabia
3 min read
10 August, 2019
British champion boxer Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr will face off in Saudi Arabia in December for a rematch.
The rematch will take place in Saudi Arabia [Getty]
Former world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua is due to face off with Andy Ruiz Jr for a rematch in Saudi Arabia in December, amid a drive by the kingdom to rebrand its image despite outrage over its right abuses.

The British champion boxer fought Ruiz in New York in June, where a shock seventh-round stoppage stripped AJ of his world titles in his first professional loss.

While Cardiff's Principality Stadium had been among the options to host the rematch, reports on Saturday confirmed the rematch would take place in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MbS] has loosened the kingdom's strict laws on public entertainment, by allowing music concerts, cinema screenings, and mixed-gender plays to take place in the kingdom.

But analysts say the relaxation of conservative restrictions are an attempt by the crown prince to curry favour with young Saudis, and halt a brain drain of educated nationals to more liberal countries.

Last month, US rap superstar Nicki Minaj cancelled her appearance at a concert in Saudi Arabia citing concerns about women's and gay rights in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

But Minaj's scheduled appearance in the western city of Jeddah as part of the cultural festival had triggered a social media backlash over human rights in the country, before she eventually pulled out of the concert.

"While I want nothing more than to bring my show to fans in Saudi Arabia, after better educating myself on the issues, I believe it is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression," she said in a statement.

Amnesty International has described the Saudi human rights record as "abysmal", adding that the nation is in the "grip of a sweeping crackdown against critics of the government".

The festival in Saudi Arabia, which forbids alcohol and has a strict social code, comes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pursues a sweeping "liberalisation" drive that has led to new cinemas, concerts and sporting extravaganzas.

These apparent reforms however, do not include measures to allow freedom of expression or association, or improve Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

Saudi Arabia’s latest line of international sports and entertainments events has been dogged by controversy following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which prompted business leaders and heads of state and business to boycott a major investment conference in Riyadh last year.

In October last year, former British-Yemeni superstar boxer, Prince Naseem Hamed took an unexpected political stance during Saudi Arabia's first professional boxing event, where he highlighted the war in neighbouring Yemen to a packed out stadium in Jeddah.

The British-born boxer, who is of Yemeni origin, then went on to chant a popular Arabic nationalistic slogan while on the ring, stating "With our souls and our blood, we sacrifice for you O' Yemen".

"Yemen is going through some hard times, please do not forget to pray for Yemen," he added, speaking in Arabic.

The following month, Saudi Arabia hosted the World Wrestling Entertainment's [WWE] controversial 'Crown Jewel' event, prompting some fans to accuse the sports entertainment firm of accepting "Saudi blood money".
Mohammed bin Salman's reforms are seen by some as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment.

Saudi Arabia is also moving to boost domestic spending on entertainment and tourism, as the kingdom has reeled from low oil prices.

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