Jordan Henderson is accused of sportswashing and ‘disguising Saudi human rights record’ by a Liverpool LGBTQ+ fan group… after claiming his Al-Ettifaq move can be ‘a positive thing’
Jordan Henderson has been accused of sportswashing and helping to disguise Saudi Arabia’s human rights record by a Liverpool LGBTQ+ fan group, after the midfielder defended his move to Al-Ettifaq.
The former Liverpool captain completed a £12m move to join Al-Ettifaq in July, the Saudi Pro League club managed by Reds legend Steven Gerrard.
Henderson’s decision to move to Saudi Arabia after 12 years at Anfield led to criticism, with the 33-year-old facing claims the transfer had undermined his public support to the LGBT community.
He had been vocal in his support of the rainbow laces campaign and ending LGBT discrimination in football during his time at Liverpool.
Liverpool LGBT fan group Kop Outs had said they were ‘appalled and concerned’ ahead of Henderson’s move, given that homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia and persecution against gay people is widespread.
Jordan Henderson faced criticism from the LGBTQ+ community by moving to Saudi Arabia
Henderson has faced criticism that the move undermined his support to the LGBT community
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Henderson told The Athletic that he understood the anger surrounding his move to Saudi Arabia, with the 33-year-old claiming he moved to the country to help ‘grow the sport all over the world’.
The England international said that people were aware of his ‘views and values’, claiming that his presence in Saudi Arabia could ultimately be a ‘positive thing.’
‘I can understand the frustration. I can understand the anger. I get it,’ Henderson said.
‘All I can say around that is that I’m sorry that they feel like that. My intention was never, ever to hurt anyone.
‘My intention has always been to help causes and communities where I felt like they have asked for my help.
‘Now, when I was making the decision, the way that I tried to look at it was I felt as though, by myself not going, we can all bury our heads in the sand and criticise different cultures and different countries from afar. But then nothing’s going to happen. Nothing’s going to change.
‘I think people know what my views and values were before I left and still do now. And I think having someone with those views and values in Saudi Arabia is only a positive thing.’
Kop Outs responded to Henderson’s interview by accusing the 33-year-old of sportwashing.
The midfielder wore a rainbow armband in support during the Rainbow Laces campaign and insisted it was important to stand alongside the LGBT+ community when at Liverpool
‘No acceptance by Henderson of his role in sportswashing, trying to disguise the disgusting Saudi human rights record,’ Kop Outs wrote on Twitter.
‘This sounds more like an attempt to rebuild his “brand”, sorry isn’t good enough @JHenderson, actions speak louder than words.’
Henderson had previously been nominated for ‘Football Ally’ at the LGBT+ Awards in 2021, having made headlines for his supportive tweet to Liverpool fan Keith Spooner during the Rainbow Laces campaign.
The midfielder had also declared himself as ‘proud’ to be considered an ally and said it was important to stand alongside the LGBT+ community during Liverpool programme notes made during the Rainbow Laces campaign in 2021.
‘I do believe when you see something that is clearly wrong and makes another human being feel excluded you should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them,’ Henderson wrote at the time.
‘You also have a responsibility to educate yourself better around the challenges they experience.
‘That’s where my own position on homophobia in football is rooted. Before I’m a footballer, I’m a parent, a husband, a son, a brother and a friend to the people in my life who matter so much to me. The idea that any of them would feel excluded from playing or attending a football match, simply for being and identifying as who they are, blows my mind.
‘The idea they’d have to hide from it to be accepted? But that’s exactly how too many members of the LGBT+ community feel. We know this because they tell us. So we should listen, support them and work to make it better.’
Al-Ettifaq were accused of greying out the rainbow armband when Henderson was unveiled
Henderson defended himself against suggestions he had turned your back on advocating for human rights by moving to Saudi Arabia, insisting ‘all I’ve ever tried to do is help.’
‘I do think about things a lot. But at the same time, I knew people can look at it like that and they’re entitled to their opinion, they’re entitled to feel like that,’ Henderson said.
‘All I can say is that I apologise, I’m sorry that I’ve made them feel that way. But I haven’t changed as a person.
Al-Ettifaq were accused during Henderson’s unveiling video in July of greying out the rainbow captain’s armband.
The armband had been worn as part of Premier League’s partnership with Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign.
Former Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out as gay in 2014, suggested Henderson’s move to Saudi Arabia made him believe his ‘allyship was not genuine’.
Henderson claimed he wouldn’t rule out wearing the armband or rainbow laces in Saudi Arabia, but said he would respect the country’s religion and culture.
‘If we’re all saying everybody can be who they want to be and everybody is inclusive, then we’ll have to respect that.
‘We’ll have to respect everyone. And by doing something like that, if that did disrespect the religion, then no, I’m not going to do that. But if the opportunity comes where I can do it and it doesn’t, then yeah, because that’s my values.