Amnesty International has stepped up its condemnation of the Anthony Joshua fight in Saudi Arabia after its researchers uncovered "worsening repression" in the days before the bout.
Joshua fights Andy Ruiz Jr in Diriyah on Saturday, having been criticised for ignoring the state's human rights abuses by agreeing a deal worth up to £83 million.
Campaigners – who had already accused the boxers of being complicit in "sportswashing" on the nation's behalf – now say there has been a further "serious downturn" in local freedoms in recent days. At least eight intellectuals and former journalists have been held in a crackdown on critics of the Saudi ruling family. Amnesty International say this is evidence of deteriorating standards in the state, where a total of 146 executions took place in the course of a year.
Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Campaigns, told Telegraph Sport: “The fight is being staged against a backdrop of worsening repression in Saudi Arabia."
Despite allegations of oppression against media, those working at the Joshua fight – which will be broadcast in the UK by Sky Sports – do not believe they are at risk. A source close to the broadcaster told Telegraph Sport that there have been no demands made on women regarding clothing.
Joshua, who will earn well in excess of the sort of money that could be generated in the UK or America, had previously responded to criticism from Amnesty International by insisting it was better to engage with Saudi, rather than "accusing, pointing fingers and shouting from Great Britain". His promoter, Eddie Hearn, hailed the destination as a "game changer" for the sport. "We had approaches from Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar," he said. "We wanted to go somewhere that had a vision for the sport of boxing."
The 15,000-seater stadium was built in four months after Joshua's shock seventh-round stoppage defeat to Ruiz Jr in June.
The Associated Press news agency reported on Friday that a fresh wave of arrests, which began last week, are part of a continuous two-year-long crackdown on activists and perceived critics of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which drew global scrutiny after 15 Saudi government agents killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey last year.
Jakens said the current political abuses illustrated why the fight was being utilised as a "PR moment for the host country".
"There’s already been a sustained and sweeping human rights crackdown, with women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority community all targeted," Jakens said. "And now there are further extremely worrying reports of a fresh wave of arrests. We’re urgently seeking further information about these reports, which mark yet another serious downturn in the human rights situation in the country."
He had previously said Joshua "would be well advised to inform himself of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and be ready to speak out". Sky Sports also had their reservations. "It wasn't our choice to go there, we just broadcast the fight," Sky's Head of Boxing, Adam Smith, previously told Boxing Social.