Espinoza “not comfortable” with Saudi sportswashing

Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza says he is “not completely comfortable” with the growth of boxing in Saudi Arabia and that Showtime has no plans to broadcast any events from the desert kingdom. On the other hand, he acknowledges the extreme attraction of “life-changing” money, particularly in a sport like boxing.

“To be completely candid, I'm not completely comfortable with it,” he told the Showtime Boxing Podcast when asked his feelings on the country throwing money at boxing – and golf, Formula 1, and soccer, among other sports. In addition to hosting Anthony Joshua’s rematches with Andy Ruiz and Oleksandr Usyk along with Tommy Fury’s win over Jake Paul, Saudi Arabia is also the site of the upcoming Tyson Fury-Francis Ngannou crossover bout and is rumored to be planning a heavyweight blockbuster in January featuring Anthony Joshua against Deontay Wilder and perhaps Fury against Oleksander Usyk. Critics contend this is all part of a concerted program of “sportswashing” to detract from Riyadh’s human rights record. 

“There are a lot of arguments there on both sides,” continued Espinoza. “It’s not as if sport is the only area where the Saudis are active investors. They have a large position in a lot of US industries. And, you know, there are other sports that are engaging in territories where there are human rights violations as well. But for that, personally, it is uncomfortable. I mean, that's why we haven't been over there. Having said that, you know, particularly in combat sports, it's hard to stand in the way of someone trying to maximize their money. So, I don't blame you, if you're going to put your life on your line, you certainly want it to be for the maximum revenue that you can possibly generate. I don't think it's particularly a great development for the sport to see a lot of big fights go over there - just because of the accessibility and the time zones and all of those challenges. So, look, do I think we'll be over there pretty soon? I don't have plans to; I don't see that. But by the same token, it's hard to criticize someone who makes that choice. It's sort of life changing money. I get it. I love to see people turn down money for the sake of integrity, but, you know, in combat sports, it's a different calculus.”