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Joshua v Ruiz boxing match accused of ‘sportswashing’ Saudi human rights record

Campaigners have criticised a much anticipated boxing match set to take place in Saudi Arabia’s newly built Diriyah stadium on Saturday, accusing it of “sportswashing” the country’s human rights record.

On Saturday, Anthony Joshua will take on Andy Ruiz Jr, in what the BBC Sports Editor Dan Roan termed “one of the most controversial sporting contests in recent times”.

Campaigners such as Amnesty International have voiced their concern that holding such a prestigious sporting event in Saudi Arabia is a political move to conceal the many human rights abuse allegations in the country.

Felix Jakens of Amnesty International had told BBC that "there's a reason the fight's happening in Saudi Arabia - the authorities are keen to whitewash - or 'sportswash' - their tarnished international reputation”.

"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the war in Yemen, the imprisonment and torture of women's rights activists are all incredibly serious human rights violations and they have a damaged international reputation,” Jakens told Sky News. "They are using sport to try and launder that image and this is probably the high watermark in those efforts.”

Joshua admitted that he would "definitely be bothered" if his reputation would be used to conceal rights abuses. "In the future maybe I can bear a different kind of flag," Joshua said. "But at the minute it's a world championship flag. I just want to do a job."

Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn also defended his client by saying that “No individual, journalist or media outlet can possibly tell a fighter where they can or can't go to earn money in a sport like this”.

Prince Abdulaziz, chairman of the Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority claimed that "we do have mistakes like any other country but there are changes that are happening”. "We're using sport to invite anyone who wants to see what it really is like here and to showcase the country,” he added.

See more from the BBC here and Sky News here.