By Anthony Harwood/London Correspondent
*Juventus and AC Milan asked 'to think twice' after Khashoggi case
Juventus and AC Milan are being urged by human rights campaigners not to play the Italian ‘Super Cup’ in Saudi Arabia following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Amnesty International said that if the clubs go ahead with the fixture in January it will only help Riyadh to use sport to "rebrand" its tarnished image, known as "sportswashing".
Soccer bosses from the Italian league, Serie A, signed an $8mn deal in June for the ‘Supercoppa’ to be played in Saudi Arabia over three of the next five years.
The first fixture in January will be between the winners of the Serie A league, Juventus, and the cup finalists, AC Milan – much like England’s Community Shield. Previous Supercoppas have been held in the US, China, Libya and Qatar.
But the international outcry over the savage killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month has led to calls for big sporting events in the desert kingdom to be boycotted.
The world’s top two tennis players, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are already under pressure to pull out of a lucrative exhibition match in Saudi Arabia next month.
Both players took to Twitter in the days just after Khashoggi disappeared to thank the authorities for the invitation to visit the "beautiful country" just before Christmas – but this was before the full gruesome details of what had happened to Khashoggi had emerged.
Outrage over the killing later led to more than 40 high-profile organisations to pull out of this week’s Saudi investment conference, dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert’.
In a hard-hitting statement Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs, Allan Hogarth, said of the Supercoppa plan today:“It’s clear that countries like Saudi Arabia are well aware of the potential for sport to subtlety ‘rebrand’ a country.
“Even before the horrific killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia had a truly appalling human rights record. Big clubs like Juventus and AC Milan need to understand that their participation in sporting events in the country could be used as a form of ‘sportswashing’.
“We’d urge these Italian clubs to think twice about the signal this sends out to sports fans across the world and the brave activists who stand up for human rights in Saudi Arabia.”
If they do decide to go ahead with their match, Nadal and Djokovic have been urged to use the visit to highlight human rights abuses going on in Saudi.
"It’s up to Nadal and Djokovic where they play their lucrative exhibition matches, but if they go to Jeddah we’d like to see them using their profiles to raise human rights issues," said Hogarth. "Tweeting support for Saudi Arabia’s brave human rights defenders would be a start."
Around 15 women’s rights activists, including a friend of the Duchess of Sussex, Loujain al-Hathloul, face 25 years in jail for speaking out on the need for more reforms.
AC Milan referred calls to Supercoppa organisers, Serie A, who declined to comment.
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