Sports stars must be prepared to speak out on Saudi Arabia, says Amnesty

Saudi Arabia are using sportswashing to improve their reputation and it is working to an extent, says Amnesty International.

Anthony Joshua is now a two-time world champion   -  Getty Images

Amnesty International says sports stars must be prepared to speak out on Saudi Arabia to stop the country's "spell of sportswashing" from being successful.

Saudi Arabia has been in the sporting spotlight amid reports Premier League team Newcastle United are being sold to a sovereign wealth fund, which involves Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for approximately £300million.

The deal will reportedly see the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia purchase an 80 per cent stake in Newcastle, who have been owned by retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley for the past 13 years.

Newcastle's proposed sale has previously attracted criticism from Amnesty International, which has expressed fears the deal is being used as a means of "glamorising" the "abysmal" human rights record in the kingdom.

And Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK's Head of Campaigns, believes any sports stars participating in, or being linked with, Saudi Arabia, should be made fully aware of the prevalent issues.

On the subject of sportswashing, which is a nation using sporting involvement to improve its reputation or to deflect from other focuses, Jakens said to Stats Perform: "It's working in the sense that they are now managing to shift the conversation away from exclusively their oil production or the human rights abuses taking place there.

"The Anthony Joshua fight went ahead, that was deemed a success and Joshua took home £60m or something.

"It looks like boxing will be going back there, so people aren't turning away from it.

"We have seen some high-profile sportspeople take a stand on this – Rory McIlroy, for example, refused to play an invitational tournament there, as did Paul Casey.

"Both cited human rights reasons, so when sportspeople are prepared to speak out, then it can break the spell of sportswashing, as it were.

"It can insert the idea that, although there are these opportunities, people are raising objections and speaking out, and that's what we're calling for at Amnesty."

Jakens believes a decision to take part in an event that involves Saudi Arabia should only be taken after a sporting figure has fully analysed the situation.

He added: "Anybody involved in these sports should make themselves fully aware of who the Saudi authorities are and what's going on in the country, and then make their own decisions.

"But be prepared to speak out about what's happening there."

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