Joshua vs Fury in Saudi Arabia is entirely predictable – but a huge shame

For a minute, put aside the allegations of human rights abuses, the executions, the brutal murder of a journalist in one of its consulates.

And purely on sporting grounds, lament the fact one of Britain’s biggest-ever events will be taking place in Saudi Arabia.

It is just wishful thinking but what an occasion Anthony Joshua against Tyson Fury at Wembley Stadium would have been.

The most important, compelling sporting contest on these shores since the 1966 World Cup Final.

Instead, it has been hawked to the highest bidder.

Nothing new there, especially when it comes to boxing.

Don’t forget, the most famous fight of all time took place between two Americans in Zaire.

In 1974, it took $10million from dictator Mobutu Sese Seko to stage the Rumble in the Jungle. Forty-seven years later, it seems it takes £108million for a mega-fight, and a Saudi consortium is willing to stump up the cash.

A worldwide TV audience of a billion watched the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight and the pay-per-view figures will be massive for Fury-Joshua.

On top of their £54million share of the purse, that means the two boxers will split one of the grandest jackpots in sporting history.


But as crowds return to sporting occasions in this country, imagine what a landmark, symbolic moment it would be if Joshua and Fury met at Wembley, or even the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

One of boxing’s best nights in recent times was the Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko epic at Wembley.

Authorities hope Wembley will be able to host in excess of 40,000 fans for the final of the Euros in early July.

There might have been even more allowed in for an event in mid-August.

Clearly, that is not going to happen and the best the fight-going British public – and they have been pretty much starved of gold standard fare for some time – can hope for is that a rematch comes our way.

But, in that instance, it would come down to finance. In boxing, money does not talk, it shouts.

And Saudi money is shouting loudest right now – making noises in golf, in motorsport, horse racing, tennis, even chess, as well as boxing.

By making such a racket, no doubt the authorities will hope the sound of disquiet about human rights, about executions, about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, will be drowned out.

Sadly, they just might be granted that hope.

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It is called sportswashing and it works. Saudi Arabia has long been known as the most likely destination for the Joshua-Fury fight and very few people have turned a hair.

Fight fans will surely regret this seminal sporting match will not take place in Britain but that will be about it.

Saudi Arabia has rapidly become an acceptable host to organisers of major sporting events.

But that does not make it right, though.

The natural home for a seismic all-British sporting event would have been in Britain.

That its home turns out to be Saudi Arabia is entirely predictable … but a shame all the same.

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