That the biggest pay-per-view event in the world will be held in Saudi Arabia is a nod to a new world order where international crimes come with no consequences.
If Saudi Arabia could create its perfect useful idiot, it would be almost identical to boxing promoter Eddie Hearn.
It was on a stage in the Savoy in London, where Hearn announced that Saudi Arabia, Diriyah to be precise, was to be the location for the biggest fight in global boxing – the rematch between Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua for the unified WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight championship of the world.
Joining Hearn onstage was — rather oddly for such an announcement — not the fighters, but rather Omar Khalil of ‘Skill Challenge Entertainment’ which is the official event partner in Saudi.
Hearn, keen to liken the Saudi bout to the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, has dubbed the fight with the less inspired title of the ‘Clash on the Dunes’. My suggestion would be ‘Thumper in the Theocracy’.
Though Hearn laughably attempted to claim that money was not a motive in him turning down famous boxing landmarks, such as Madison Square Garden and Las Vegas, or even Cardiff’s Principality Stadium as a UK location, the Saudis put up an unmatchable $100 million to host the fight.
With the combination of the greedy, wilfully ignorant Hearn, as well as the attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to craft a new image of the country via his ‘Reform Agenda’ as a bastion of investment and entertainment for the interminable opulence of global elites, you can guarantee that the manifold and large-scale human rights abuses carried out by the Kingdom didn’t come up during negotiations.
When asked about the human rights abuses, Hearn has denied any knowledge of their existence. When asked about the Kingdom’s brutal crackdown on genuine social and religious reformers, woman’s rights activists, journalists and the long-oppressed and brutalised Shia minority, he pleads absolute ignorance, even joking with one journalist that he wasn’t a politician.
Perhaps Hearn was on another planet when news of the grotesque mafia-style abduction and murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, seemingly ordered by MBS, rocked the world? Perhaps he’s missed the near-genocidal carnage Saudi has inflicted on Yemen for the past four years?
Or perhaps, more likely, Hearn simply doesn’t care?
Almost every attempt to bring these things up with Hearn is met with a stock response of him wanting to ‘grow boxing' in that part of the world for ‘the people in that region’, while offering up his glowing impression of Saudi’s ‘vision’ for turning itself into a new global hub for entertainment.
On the face of it, a character like Hearn is just a pawn in a much larger global game being played by Saudi to reinvent itself superficially, but it’s essential to understand the mentality between this two-way street of ‘sportswashing’ tyranny.
Given the anti-egalitarian nature of this endeavour, it’s of no surprise that racism and orientalism intersect with it, human life doesn’t even come a close second to profitability.
For profiteers, Saudi Arabia only registers as an enclave for the super-rich – the Saudi beyond that, of beheadings, crucifixions, religious persecution, gender apartheid and bombing Yemen into oblivion, simply don’t exist in the world of wealthy entrepreneurs like Hearn.
This is precisely Saudi’s new target audience: the amoral rich around the world who, ever-more, are finding a world of tyranny equates to a society where they can prosper without having to bother about things like human rights.
Saudi Arabia presents an extreme example, but one can see different versions and scales of the same new order across the world. In the UK, even something like Brexit has as one of its main ideological strands, the concept of a Neo-Victorian UK, with the UK eradicating European ‘red tape’. In reality, it means workplace rights for women, health and safety regulations for workers and provisions to maintain hygiene standards for produce.
Fortress Europe, with its inhumane mandate to keep migrants out of the continent at all costs, could be considered a significant upsurge in the anti-egalitarian demand to ensure that Europe’s vast wealth is not merely maintained in the face of migration, but jealously hoarded against those fleeing wars and terror.
The same could be said for Donald Trump and his anti-migrant wall and crackdowns in the US, or for the blind eye the world has turned to China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims, all because the Beijing regime is an economic powerhouse.
Everywhere one turns, we see anti-egalitarianism in its most debased forms being practised, accepted and promoted.
All of this is interconnected to the kind of world in which a country like Saudi can suddenly become normalised by hosting one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
The 'Arab Spring' forced these great bastions of tyranny to gaze upon their morality – the reaction has been to eradicate anything that might pose even the remotest threat to them. MBS’ Reform Agenda’ and ‘Vision 2030’ rely on the destruction of any genuine reform; it’s all about the survival and expansion of his family.
All the usual voices, namely dissidents and human rights groups, have condemned the decision to host the fight in Saudi, some have even spoken of a boycott
But it won’t make a difference.
As long as most of the world is kept in a haze of self-interest, whether through the language of racism, greed or ignorance, the Kingdom will have its games, while Hearn and his partner Sky Sports will have their record profits and pay-per-view numbers.
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