Premier League star Jordan Henderson faces backlash over move to Saudi Arabia after years of LGBTQ+ allyship

Liverpool player Jordan Henderson wearing a rainbow captain armband

England star Jordan Henderson is facing criticism from fan groups and pundits over a potential move from Liverpool to Saudi Arabia, after years of support for the LGBTQ+ community. 

The 33-year-old midfielder – who has played for the Reds since 2011 – is considering a big money move to a Saudi Pro League side.

During his career, Henderson became well-known for his support of the LGBTQ+ community. He was nominated for Football Ally at the LGBT+ Awards in 2021 and has backed Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign and wider inclusion in football, commenting back in 2022 that was “proud” to support the initiative and “football is for everyone”. 

Saudi Arabia, however, is an extremely hostile nation to LGBTQ+ people, with queer folks facing state-sactioned oppression and abuse. 

In the Gulf nation, both homosexuality and being trans are illegal, with the death penalty a possibility for those found to be engaging in same-sex acts. LGBTQ+ people have no legal protections from discrimination, nor are they protected from conversion therapy. 

Jordan Henderson of Liverpool wears a rainbow captains armband as clubs show their support to the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield on November 27, 2021. (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

A verbal agreement between Henderson and the Saudi club was reportedly made on Thursday (13 July). 

You may like to watch

The transfer speculation comes two weeks after the Saudi club appointed former Liverpool star-turned-manager Steven Gerrard. 

Weighing on the potential transfer, football pundit Jamie Carragher – who also played for the Reds – commented that Henderson was opening himself up to criticism if he makes the move to Al Ettifaq. 

Carragher tweeted: “The money is difficult to turn down hence why virtually no one has, a great servant and player for Liverpool. 

“He will get criticism because he got a lot of praise for his stance on LGBTQ+ in the past. 

“Not a player in his prime but again a big statement to get the Liverpool captain to the Saudi league. A good deal for Liverpool also.”

In a statement on Twitter, members of Liverpool’s LGBTQ+ fan club Kop Outs said they were “appalled and concerned” Henderson would consider moving to Saudi Arabia. 

“Kop Outs have valued the allyship shown by Jordan Henderson,” the statement read. 

“We are appalled and concerned that anyone might consider working for a #sportswashing operation for a regime where women & LGBT+ people are oppressed & that regularly tops the world death sentence table?”

The group’s statement continued: “Gerrard’s participation in this sportswashing is particularly galling given his previous support for LA Galaxy teammate Robbie Rogers. 

“When someone’s made a fortune, should money tempt them to go to work? Maybe they should be asking themselves those questions.

“We hope that Jordan Henderson proves to be a man of his word and stays true to the values of our club, which so far he has been an absolute embodiment of.”