15 May 2024

Boxers Fury and Usyk urged to 'speak out' on Saudi human rights

12:02 pm on 15 May 2024
Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk face off.

Tyson Fury and Oleksander Usyk will fight in the first undisputed heavyweight contest for nearly 25 years. Photo: Getty Images

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk have been encouraged to "speak out" about the "urgent need for human rights reform" in Saudi Arabia.

The rival champions fight in Riyadh on Sunday in the first undisputed heavyweight contest for nearly 25 years.

Saudi Arabia has paid huge sums to host the bout, which is the latest in a string of boxing events in the Kingdom.

But the country continues to face sportswashing and human rights violation claims and Amnesty International has said Fury and Usyk should "acknowledge the way that this fight fits into a pattern of Saudi sportswashing".

"Boxing is very much part of the Saudi sportswashing strategy under Mohammed bin Salman, dating back to at least Anthony Joshua's fight with Andy Ruiz in 2019," said Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK's economic affairs director.

"Glitzy events like Fury v Usyk are designed to rebrand Saudi Arabia as a 'sporting hub' while deflecting attention from the country's jailing of women's rights activists, suppression of free speech and rampant use of the death penalty.

"At the very same time that the Saudi sportswashing machine has cranked into high gear there's been a widening crackdown on human rights defenders, including the recent 11-year jail sentence handed down against the fitness instructor Manahel al-Otaibi.

"The Leeds University student Salma al-Shehab has been jailed for 27 years for tweeting about women's rights, while the retired teacher Mohammad bin Nasser al-Ghamdi faces execution for his peaceful remarks on Twitter and YouTube."

Last year, Saudi Arabia sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal told BBC Sport their unprecedented investment in sport is to help inspire a youthful population to take up physical activity and exercise, open the country up to the international community, boost tourism, create jobs and provide sports federations with growth potential.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also said in September how sport had helped increase his country's GDP by 1 percent.

Englishman Fury, 35, is the WBC champion and undefeated in 35 fights with one draw.

Ukraine's Usyk holds the WBA, IBF, WBO and Ring magazine titles and the 37-year-old has 21 wins and zero losses on his record.

Boxing is not the only sport Saudi Arabia has invested in heavily, with golf, tennis and F1 also staging massive events in the country.


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.