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Usyk-Joshua II is Headed to Saudi Arabia, Amping Up Talk of ‘Sportswashing’

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  • Usyk-Joshua II is Headed to Saudi Arabia, Amping Up Talk of ‘Sportswashing’

    Click image for larger version  Name:	usyk.PNG Views:	4 Size:	414.1 KB ID:	21563

    By Arne K. Lang

    On Sunday, June 19, a press release from Matchroom Boxing made it official: the rematch between WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and former title-holder Anthony Joshua will be held on Saturday, August 20, in Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    Usyk (19-0, 13 KOs) upset Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) on Sept. 25 of last year at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. In a battle of two former Olympic gold medalists, he won a unanimous decision, prevailing by margins of 5, 4, and 2 points. Prior to this, Usyk became the first unified cruiserweight champion of the four-belt era.

    The rematch would have come to fruition sooner if not for developments in the Ukraine. In February, Usyk returned to his native country and joined a territorial defense battalion in Kiev. According to ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, those fit for military service in the Ukraine cannot leave the country under martial law, but an exception was carved out for parents of three or more children so Usyk, a father of three, is exempted.

    Matchroom Boxing honcho Eddie Hearn and Anthony Joshua were hoping to have the rematch in the U.K. but Usyk had the final say and he said, “show me the money.”

    No one has deeper pockets than Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sport (formerly the General Sports Authority) which owns and operates most of the sports facilities in the country. The Ministry reportedly paid $38.29 million to host Joshua’s rematch with Andy Ruiz in December of 2019. That match was staged in a specially constructed stadium on the outskirts of Saudi Arabia’s capitol city of Riyadh.

    Other sports are tapping into this rich vein of Saudi money. The Saudi Cup, inaugurated in 2020, is the richest horserace in the world. Formula One racing arrived in Saudi Arabia in December of last year. The second edition of the Grand Prix was run at Jeddah this Spring. LIV Golf, a Saudi-backed professional golf tour – the first of five scheduled tournaments was held this month at a course on the outskirts of London -- is shaking up the world of golf. (LIV stands for the Roman numeral 54, the number of holes that participants will play and also a golfer’s score if he were to birdie every hole in a standard 72-hole tournament.)

    The money that the Saudis are throwing at sports is seen as an investment in tourism; as a way to diversify the tourism sector of the economy. Most foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia are there on a religious pilgrimage – Jeddah is the major gateway city to Mecca – and, by and large, they aren’t good spenders. However, critics contend that the impetus is more cynical, namely to deflect attention away from human rights abuses. That’s the gist of so-called “sportswashing” – the practice by which a corporation or government uses sports to varnish a tarnished reputation.

    Saudi Arabia is gradually becoming more westernized. Saudi women were granted the right to vote in 2015. In 2018, the Saudis lifted the ban that prohibited women from driving. But whatever gains have been made in the eyes of the western world were squandered on Oct. 2, 2018 when Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing editorial writer for the Washington Post, was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Higher-ups in the Saudi ruling caste, which has some 15,000 members, were said to be directly involved in his murder.


    Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, and Lennox Lewis come quickly to mind among boxers that recaptured the heavyweight title by defeating the man that upset them in their first encounter. Lennox Lewis is the only man to accomplish this feat twice.

    Anthony Joshua, who avenged his defeat to Andy Ruiz, hopes to emulate Lewis. Oleksandr Usyk hopes to emulate Gene Tunney and the price-makers like his chances. The Ukrainian is favored by odds somewhat higher than 2 to 1.
    Last edited by AcidArne; 06-21-2022, 02:51 PM.

  • #2
    Obviously I was hoping for Lewiston, Maine.

    Or even Portland. Hagler used to fight there.

    I hope AJ can right the ship, fight Fury. 👑