Half of Brits don’t consider footballers playing for Saudi teams to be LGBTQ+ allies, study finds

England footballer Jordan Henderson wears a red strip with a rainbow captain's armband

A majority of Britons do not consider any footballer who plays for a team in Saudi Arabia to be an LGBTQ+ ally, a survey has found. 

After the announcement last week that former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson had signed for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ettifaq, polling from YouGov found that 52 per cent of all Britons surveyed do not consider a sportsperson who moves to the kingdom to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. That number rises to 56 per cent for queer people.

England international Henderson, who had demonstrated years of support for the LGBTQ+ community, came in for some heavy criticism because of Saudi Arabia’s hard-line stance against homosexuality.

Homosexuality is illegal in the country – punishable by death – while LGBTQ+ people are afforded no protection against discrimination.

The poll surveyed 3,679 adults, and 60 per cent of the 338 queer respondents said they would still consider a footballer playing in Saudi Arabia to be an ally as long as he continued to speak out in favour of LGBTQ+ rights.

If they were to stop speaking out in favour of LGBTQ+ rights while playing in the country, a majority of LGBTQ+ Brits (71 per cent) would no longer consider them to be an ally. 

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A small number (13 per cent) of the queer people surveyed would still consider a player who stopped speaking out in favour of LGBTQ+ rights to be an ally.

A majority of Brits said a football player is not an ally if they transfer to a team in Saudi Arabia (YouGov)

After the announcement of Henderson’s move, LGBTQ+ fan network Pride in Football said it appeared to them that he had “thrown away” his previous allyship. 

“A few years ago, Jordan Henderson said that you should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the community if you feel something is wrong, and now he is transferring to the other side of the world to play in a country where those very people he defended are attacked and imprisoned for being who they are,” the group said. 

“All the campaigns he has been a part of now feel meaningless. [We are] sure his original intentions were good, but he’s throwing away everything he’s said, and hurting a community of people who trusted him.

“It’s disappointing that someone we as a community trusted has all but turned his back on everything he has said and done, but another example of how maybe footballers are being over-praised for simply being supportive.”

England LGBTQ+ fan group, 3LionsPride, added that they were “disappointed” about the move “in the struggle for acceptance within the game”.