The decision to stage the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. in Saudi Arabia has drawn heavy criticism from human rights group Amnesty International.
Joshua, who suffered a shock defeat when the heavyweight pair first met in New York City in June, announced Friday that the rematch would be held in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh, on December 7.
“Neutral grounds – LETS GO [sic],” the 29-year-old wrote on social media about the fight which is being dubbed the “Clash on the Dunes.”
The seventh-round stoppage in Madison Square Garden 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.
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, the middle east country’s “abysmal human rights record” has been called into question by Amnesty International UK, which urged Joshua to “inform himself of the human rights situation” ahead of the rematch.
“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,” said Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Campaigns.
“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.”
CNN has reached out to Joshua’s promoters and the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia for comment but is yet to receive a response.
However, in a press conference on Monday, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn officially announced that the fight would be taking place in a purpose-built, 15,000-seat venue in Diriyah.
“Organizations bigger than us have taken events to Saudi Arabia. If [the country] is willing to invest in the sport of boxing for the right reasons, I’m in,” said Hearn.
“Every promoter in boxing has been in talks with Saudi Arabia, Dubai etc. Mayweather and Pacquaio considered it, this is the first time it will actually happen.
“I couldn’t believe how good the World Boxing Super Series final was there. Financially, it is viable. Formula One, the European golf tour, the Italia Cup, the biggest horse racing race, it all happens here.”
Ruiz, who was born in California but has Mexican parents, had made calls for the rematch to be held in Tijuana where he made his professional debut in 2009.
The Principality Stadium in Wales – the site of two professional victories for Joshua – had previously been thought of as the most likely site for the fight.
“Ruiz had a moan about the UK,” added Hearn. “We said: there’s your neutral venue.”