Now that Eddie Hearn’s gamble of a triumphant return to the status of unified heavyweight champion for Anthony Joshua has failed, he leaves it up to DAZN to somehow salvage their exclusive deal with AJ that comically wasn’t set to start until after the fight that could determine the trajectory of his career. But that is not the purpose of this article. No, for today we talk about why the fight was in Saudi Arabia at all.
It has been the stance of Hearn and some pundits that the money offered by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund is money that cannot be matched by anyone else in the world. Even leading to writers like Ron Lewis making incorrect statements like this one in his recent article about the rematch between Usyk and AJ.
The Saudis are not paying a site fees. A site fee, as is traditionally known, is when a promotion is paid to put on an event at a host location. This varies from Las Vegas where casinos pay to states in the US or other countries like Australia will pay money towards out of their tourism budgets. While there is some consideration in return for this money it usually amounts to mentions or features promoting the venue or state.
The money the Saudis are putting up is for full global control of the fight. The Saudis paid Hearn a flat fee and then it was upon the Saudis to find ways to recoup the money like any other promoter. And when you view these fights in the correct interpretation, Saudi Arabia is not the dominant player that no one can compete with.
The true beneficiaries of this arrangement are not the boxers as pundits will try to tell you, but the promoters who eliminate all risk to themselves. But when you talk about numbers like fifty, eighty or even a hundred million these are not figures that are out of reach of the American marketplace. Especially when fighters are developed properly and built up. The money Saudi Arabia is putting up is also not at the level that justifies hosting a fight in a country that is trying to use the sport to have people ignore the realities of the country, or as it is generally known, “sportswashing”.
Let us not forget that in the same week where female boxer Ramla Ali who was fighting on the undercard called Saudi Arabia “very progressive” and suggested that critics of Saudi Arabia were just opposed to women’s boxing; an appeals court in SA sentenced a women, Salma al-Shehab, to 34 years in prison because of tweets she had made that were determined to be against the state. Salma was originally sentenced to six years and then upon asking for relief she was given 28 more years. So you can see the obvious strides Saudi Arabia has made in human rights. She was also turned in by other citizens using an app the Saudi government has made to report crime. However the app called Kollona Amn (We Are All Security) is being used mostly to report other citizens for behaviour that is critical of the Saudi state.
What a pitch to be made for boxing, “Come to the fights and if you get here early enough you’ll be able to witness the public beheadings!“.
This “money at all costs” philosophy already saw UK boxing have to hastily pivot away from Daniel Kinahan’s control of the UK scene when he was finally sanctioned by the United States government for being a wanted narco-terrorist earlier this year.
This relationship between a drug cartel and UK boxing has made Tyson Fury promoter Frank Warren start the spin on how a fight in Saudi Arabia makes sense because they want to do it as soon as possible and it cannot be done in the winter in England. Which just ignores the fact that the fight can’t be held in the US because Tyson Fury cannot fly to America because of his relationship to Daniel Kinahan.
It is very odd that in the Western world we have witnessed athletes and organizations become extremely sensitive to modern sensibilities with remarks and campaigns covering a wide variety of social issues but will remain silent on the same issues when they deal with the Middle East.
Even outlets that take umbrage with the sportswashing will usually only state unspecific human rights issues or individual cases such as Salma al-Shebab or the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi but rarely is the most egregious issue brought up that should make everyone question any sport doing business in the Middle East and that is the kafala system.
The kafala system is the process where citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council states can sponsor migrant workers who usually fill roles either in the domestic or construction workforce. The arrangement is one of modern slavery rife with abuse where the sponsoring party holds extreme levels of control over workers from foreign countries. While several states have made public pronouncements of changes this has remained little but window dressing to once again fit into the “progress is being made” camp to appease outside interests.
With the recent news of the Dmitry Bivol vs Gilberto Ramirez fight being set to take place in the United Arab Emirates, the place where wanted narco-terrorist Daniel Kinahan resides, it might be time for boxing to ask itself if a few million dollars is worth covering up atrocities?