HUMAN rights campaigners have urged Amir Khan to travel to Saudi Arabia “with his eyes firmly open” after he announced he is to fight Neeraj Goyat in Jeddah.
The 32-year-old Briton will face India’s Goyat at King Abdullah Sports City on July 12.
However, concerns over the Saudi regime’s human rights record makes that decision controversial and Amnesty International has urged the former unified light-welterweight world champion to speak out during his time in the country.
Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns, told Press Association Sport: “An experienced sporting star like Amir Khan will presumably realise that accepting a fight in Saudi Arabia will inevitably mean the country’s abysmal human rights record will become a focus of the fight.
“Saudi Arabia is in the grip of a sweeping crackdown against critics of the government, human rights defenders and women’s rights activists, while the Saudi air force continues to bomb homes, hospitals and marketplaces in neighbouring Yemen.
“Amir should go to Jeddah with his eyes firmly open and be prepared to speak about human rights issues wherever possible.
“By speaking out on Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record, Amir can show some support for those being repressed in the country and also help counteract the intended ‘sportswashing’ that the Saudi authorities clearly hope will occur when they host events like this one.”
Khan confirmed the fight in a post on his official Instagram account on Friday morning.
He said: “Khan v Goyat, professional boxing fight with @WBCBoxing Asia champion Neeraj Goyat to be held in Saudi Arabia, Jeddah on 12th July.
“We kicked off the India press conference today Delhi. The WBC pearl title is on the line.”
Reports have suggested the showdown could be worth as much as £7million to the 2004 Olympic silver medallist.
Khan last fought in April, when he was controversially withdrawn from his WBO welterweight title clash with American Terence Crawford in the sixth round following a low blow.
Ahmed Benchemsi, Human Rights Watch’s communications and advocacy director in the Middle East and North Africa, said the event would put Saudi Arabia’s “abysmal” human rights record firmly in the spotlight.
“We do call for using events like this to highlight the full record of human rights abuses,” said Benchemsi.
“We do not call for a boycott, that’s not our policy.
“But we believe that every event of this magnitude that will attract media attention is a good opportunity to highlight the human rights abuse that goes on.
“We are hoping the Federation, or whatever body that is associated with that event, fully realise where they are setting foot. The media also has to be reminded that this is a country that has total disrespect for human rights.
“We encourage him [Khan] or anyone associated with the event to speak out on human rights because we believe that’s the moral thing to do.
“We see it as an opportunity to remind the world of the situation of human rights in Saudi Arabia, which is absolutely abysmal.”