Ramla Ali views Saudi Arabia as a “very progressive country” as she defended her decision to fight in the kingdom.
Ali will take part in the first women’s bout to be staged in the country when she faces Crystal Garcia Nova on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s rematch against Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah.
The British-Somali model and activist approaches the historical moment as a chance to inspire Saudi girls and women by “being part of change”, but human Amnesty International sees it as an example of the regime attempting to sportswash its dismal human rights record.
Women in particular have limitations placed on their freedom and earlier this week 34-year-old former Leeds University student Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison for sharing critical posts on social media.
But Ali said: “I feel the way the media portrays Saudi Arabia is not entirely accurate.
“When I came here I expected to have to be covered up, so when I went to the beach on Sunday I went covered up in leggings and a baggy t-shirt.
“But when I turned up everyone was in a bikini. I thought ‘damn, where was my memo?’.
“And the fact that they are pushing female sport here and have allowed two girls to compete here for the first time shows how progressive the country is becoming and I am all for that.”
When asked if she was aiding Saudi’s sportswashing campaign, she replied: “People who say that are people who just don’t want females to box and that saddens me a little bit.
“Why wouldn’t you want women to box and women to have equal opportunities? Comments like that make me really sad.
“What I have seen here is that women are free to do whatever they want and train alongside men if they want.
“They don’t have to wear hijabs if they don’t want to. So I just see this as a very progressive country.”
Human rights organisation Amnesty International regards a fight that is part of Mathroom’s ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ bill as a clear example of sportswashing.
— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) August 16, 2022
“Away from the glitz and spectacle of the boxing ring, the reality for women in Saudi Arabia is that they face serious discrimination in marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody,” head of priority campaigns Felix Jakens said.
“In recent years, Saudi women who have been brave enough to call for reforms in the country have been jailed, tortured and completely silenced.
“We wish Ramla Ali well in her fight on Saturday and in her future boxing career, but there’s nothing even faintly progressive about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
“This fight is yet more sportswashing as Saudi Arabia tries once again to distract from its appalling human rights record.”