Jordan Henderson, the England international who recently joined the Saudi Arabian football club Al Ettifaq, has been met with disapproval from the LGBTQIA+ community for his transfer to a country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.
Henderson, who has been a vocal supporter of LGBTQIA+ rights in the past, has apologised for the hurt he has caused and defended his move as a way to bring about change. He left Liverpool after 12 years in July and stated that he understood the frustration and anger of the LGBTQIA+ community but hoped his presence in Saudi Arabia would help to highlight the issues faced by gay people and challenge the oppressive regime.
However, his comments have not been enough to convince some of the LGBTQIA+ groups that have been following his career and supporting him as an ally. Three Lions Pride, an English LGBTQIA+ group, stated that they would no longer cheer his name or use a banner with his face.
They added that they may turn their backs on the pitch when he plays for England in the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifiers, accusing him of having a “saviour complex” and being unaware of the wider impact of his decision. Pride in Football, another LGBTQIA+ group, said Henderson’s presence in Saudi Arabia could be more harmful to the local gay people, who would face backlash if he spoke out. They mentioned Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup last year as an example of how promises of reform and inclusion are seldom kept and they claimed that Henderson’s move was a way of sportswashing the Saudi human rights record and rebuilding his image.
In response to the criticism, Henderson said he was hurt and that he had not changed as a person. He added that he had not been asked to promote Saudi Arabia on social media as part of his deal but did not rule out wearing the rainbow laces in the future. He acknowledged the need to be respectful of the religion and culture of the nation he is now living in.