Demands for release of Saudi activist as Kingdom hosts Spanish Super Cup

    Women from Amnesty International protest outside the Saudi embassy in Madrid.

    (CNN)Most Real Madrid fans will focus on the team's 3-1 victory over Valencia that marked the start of the new-look Spanish Super Cup, hosted for the first time in Saudi Arabia.

    But there's another statistic that loomed, undermining the joy fans may have felt: Wednesday also marked the 600th day of confinement for Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.
    The Saudi venue in Jeddah inaugurates one of several departures for the Spanish Super Cup.
      For example, for the first time, the Cup features four teams rather than two, with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia competing.
        It's the Saudi location, however -- far from Spain and rife with political repercussions -- that's causing the biggest stir.
        Indeed, the list of sporting events staged in Saudi Arabia is growing, including two Formula E races and the world heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.
        In the build-up to Joshua's December rematch with Ruiz, Amnesty International UK's Head of Campaigns, Felix Jakens, said the event was another attempt by Saudi Arabia at "sportswashing," when governments use the hosting of major events to divert attention away from human rights issues.
          Portraits of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz are displayed during the Spanish Super Cup semi final between Valencia and Real Madrid.
          "We've increasingly seen Gulf countries seek prestige and bolster their international reputations by hosting major sporting events," Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told CNN ahead of Joshua's fight.
          "Unfortunately, many of these sporting events take place without these countries addressing the root causes of their reputational problems such as longstanding and systematic human rights abuses against political dissidents and activists, foreign migrant workers, and women."
          The General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia did not respond to CNN's request for comment at the time.

          'Repressive laws'

          The Super Cup's move to Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized in Spain, both because of the kingdom's human rights record and the considerable inconvenience moving the tournament has been to the fans.
          The move came after Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) chief Luis Rubiales struck a deal with Saudi Arabia last year, reportedly worth €120 million ($133M), to host the tournament for three years.
          One newspaper reported that the four clubs had sold less than nine percent of the tickets available to fans.
          On Wednesday, a group of activists from Amnesty International gathered outside of the Saudi embassy in Madrid to stage a protest timed with the start of the Super Cup.
          Lined up like a football team and holding aloft the scarves of each of the four clubs competing in this Super Cup, the activists wore yellow t-shirts calling for Hathloul's freedom and raised a banner urging people to "join our team."
          "For decades in Saudi Arabia, women have been subjected to repressive laws that have imposed restrictions on their rights to travel independently, work or study, which limits various aspects of their lives," Amnesty International said in a statement.
          Amnesty International protesters wear the No. 600 on their shirts, the number of days Loujain al-Hathloul had been in prison.