Posted on February 2021

Hollie Doyle asked to lead boycott of Saudi Cup while Loujain is denied her freedom and prisoners of conscience remain in jail

Campaigners, led by Lina al-Hathloul, have written to Hollie Doyle – third in the BBC’s prestigious 2020’s Sports Personality of the Year award – to ask the jockey to use her enhanced status to lead a boycott of this week’s Saudi Cup, while prisoners of conscience remain in prison in the Kingdom.

The Saudi Cup is held at the King Abdulaziz Equestrian Field in Riyadh, just a few kilometres form the notorious Al Ha’ir prison, home to women’s rights campaigner Mayaa al-Zahrani and Salman al-Odah, the prominent cleric still facing the death penalty for opposing the Saudi blockade of Qatar, even after relations have improved.

The race – marketed as the richest race in the world – is the first major event in Saudi Arabia since the release of Louajain al-Hathloul. Although no longer in prison, Loujain remains on probation, under a travel ban and unable to express herself freely. Her family continue to campaign for her exoneration and for the authorities to acknowledge her torture.

In the letter to Hollie Doyle, signed by Lina al-Hathloul, they write:

Dear Hollie,

The Saudi regime has a long record of using sporting events to launder its reputation. That’s not your fault – but through their cynicism they have made it your problem.

Loujain al-Hathloul lost three years of her life inside Saudi prisons – notably the notorious al- Ha’ir prison just a few kilometres from the King Abdulaziz Equestrian Field which hosts the Saudi Cup. In jail she faced physical torture and sexually assault, and the psychological tortured of prolonged solitary confinement and separation from her family and legal team. Today she is out of prison but she is not free – she is still on probation, still subject to a travel ban, still unable to express herself. Her only crime was to campaign for the rights that you take for granted – the right to drive and the right to come and go as she pleases.

And Loujain is not alone. 

Women’s rights activists such as Samar Badawi, Mayaa al-Zahrani and Nassima al-Sadah remain behind bars because they campaigned for equality. Reformers like Salman al-Odah potentially face the death penalty for calling for peace with Qatar – even after the Saudi blockade is now lifted he remains in jail. And humanitarians like Abdulraham al-Sadan are in prison, unable to communicate with the outside world, for peacefully expressing their support for basic human rights.

In Saudi Arabia, this persecution happens every day, it is happening now, and it will continue during the Saudi Cup. The authorities and their expensive PR advisers want to use events like the Saudi Cup to show the world that the country has changed – but away from these glamourous events the brutality goes on.

You have a huge public profile – and with that profile comes a responsibility. If you attend the Saudi Cup, the authorities will use your attendance for their own ends. They will consider it a sign of endorsement. But if you refuse to attend you can send a message that the world will not put up with the brutality. 

As a woman we ask you to support the women who have fought for the rights you take for granted, as a sports star we ask you to use your profile for good.

We beg you to boycott the Saudi Cup while Loujain is denied true freedom and prisoners of conscience remain in jail. 

Yours truly,

Lina al-Hathloul

Lucy Rae, Grant Liberty

Publishing the letter, Grant Liberty’s Lucy Rae said,

“Hollie Doyle is becoming a leader in British sport. But with that status comes responsibility. She shouldn’t let the Saudi authorities use her good name to cover up their bad practices.  

“Loujain might be out of prison but she isn’t free and the campaign for justice in Saudi Arabia goes on. Justice and true freedom for Loujain, and justice and freedom for the activists that remain behind bars in brutal conditions.  

“If Saudi Arabia wants the world to believe it is liberalising, the answer is to truly liberalise. That means freedom and human rights for all. Until the Kingdom truly makes those changes sports stars like Hollie Doyle should refuse to have anything to do with it.”


Notes to Editors

The Saudi Cup takes place this Friday 19 and Saturday 20 February in Riyadh

Hollie Doyle cam third in December’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year award

Hollie Doyle is expected to ride Extra Elusive at the Saudi Cup

The al Ha’ir prison was until last week home to Loujain al-Hathloul, at which she is believed to have been tortured. The prison remains home to women’s rights activist Mayaa al-Zahrani and Salman al-Odah.

Maya al-Zahrani – arrested 9 June 2018

Mayaa al-Zahrani was arrested in the Summer 2018 purge, for the crime of publishing her friend Nouf Abdelaziz’s open letter. In her time in prison she has been tourtured, sexually assaulted and held in solitary confinement. Mayaa was arrested within hours of posting her distress at her friend Nouf’s arrest.

Salman Al-Odah – arrested September 2017

Facing the death penalty. Al-Odah is an iconic religious reformer and one of Saudi Arabia’s leading proponents of political reform and human rights. He is a prominent media figure who boasts more than 14 million followers on Twitter. He was arrested in 2017, from which he continues to be held awaiting trial. In making the arrest, security officers made clear that the reason for his arrest was a Twitter post in which he had welcomed a phone conversation between the Emir of Qatar and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia as a step towards resolving the current Gulf crisis. In the tweet he said: “Praise the Lord… O God, soften their hearts toward each other for the good of their peoples.”

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Sister of Saudi women’s rights activist urges star jockey Hollie Doyle to boycott Saudi Cup


Sister of Saudi women’s rights activist urges star jockey Hollie Doyle to boycott Saudi Cup


Saudi Arabian Women’s Rights Activist Sisters Encourage Star Jockey Hollie Doyle to Boycott Saudi Cup


Sister of Saudi women’s rights activist urges star jockey Hollie Doyle to boycott Saudi Cup