Ramla Ali has been rebuked by human rights organization Amnesty International after she called Saudi Arabia a “very progressive” country.

Ali, who has lived most of her life in London but boxed for Somalia, where she was born, in the Tokyo Olympics, will features in the first women’s professional bout to take place in the kingdom when she faces Crystal Garcia Nova on the Usyk-Joshua undercard in Jeddah.

Ali, who put on a boxing clinic for a group of Saudi women on Thursday, says she has been impressed by what she has seen of the way women are treated in the country.

“I feel the way the media portrays Saudi Arabia is not entirely accurate,” she said. “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?’

“Most women walking down the streets are not wearing hijabs either. 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.”

She was also critical of those who said her fight could just be seen as an example of sportswashing.

“I think people who say that are people that just don’t want females to box and that saddens me a little bit,” she said.  

“Like, why wouldn’t you want women to box and women to have equal opportunities?

“What I have seen here is that women are free to do whatever they want, 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.”

But those views are the opposite of Amnesty International’s views.

“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,” Felix Jakens, the head of priority campaigns, 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.”

Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.