Saudi Arabia hosting 2034 World Cup leaves LGBTQ+ football fans horrified

LGBTQ+ football fans have reacted with shock to the news that Saudi Arabia will host the men’s football World Cup in 2034, after Australia chose not to bid for the tournament. 

Saudi Arabia’s relationship with football has been the source of controversy in recent months, with many fans and pundits accusing the nation of using sportswashing to hide its long list of human rights violations. 

On Tuesday (31 October), mere hours before the deadline for declarations of interest, Football Australia released a statement in which it said that, after considering “all factors” following the success of the women’s World Cup – hosted jointly with New Zealand early this year – it would not bid to hold the men’s competition in 11 years’ time. 

That left Saudi Arabia as the only nation to confirm interest in staging the tournament. 

LGBTQ+ fans of were quick to criticise the decision, with the Middle East Kingdom known to be openly hostile to LGBTQ+ people while also having a poor human rights record.

Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia, with the death penalty among the punishments for those found to have engaged in same-sex acts. In addition, LGBTQ+ topics are censored and it is illegal to be trans because Sharia Law prohibits what it describes as crossdressing. 

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Alongside this, the country has been heavily criticised for carrying out mass executions, abusing activists, attacking and silencing freedom of speech and having a lack of women’s and migrants’ rights. 

The 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a staunch critic of the government, also significantly damaged Saudi’s international standing. 

In a sarcastic post on X, previously known as Twitter, Jack Murley, the host of the BBC’s LGBT Sports Podcast, noted the similarities between 2018 and 2022 tournament hosts Russia and Qatar respectively and Saudi Arabia, all of which have restrictive laws relating to being LGBTQ+ 

“Good to see football moving in the right direction, eh,” he wrote. 

Jon Holmes, the founder of Sports Media LGBT+ and editor at OutSports, said: “Eleven years to go til the Saudi World Cup. Eleven years of trying to talk constructively about global warming, human rights abuses, capital punishment, migrant workers and the criminalisation of LGBTQ+ people, and then to be told by the people with influence to focus on the football’.” 

The Proud Sky Blues, Coventry City’s LGBTQ+ supporters group, wrote: “#FIFA showing their true colours once again. They do not care about human rights or inclusivity. They care only about one thing: cha-ching.”

One fan wrote: “Another anti-LGBTQ+ country hosting the football World Cup. David Beckham and Jordan Henderson must be looking forward to making more money from being such great allies.”

In recent months, a number of top players have joined the Saudi Pro League for eye-watering amounts of money, including Cristiano Ronaldo, former Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and ex-Liverpool captain Henderson.

In particular, Henderson, who has been a strong ally of the community, faced an intense backlash from LGBTQ+ fans for moving to a nation where being LGBTQ+ is illegal and seen as immoral.

While at Liverpool, Henderson advocated for LGBTQ+ inclusion and was nominated as a football ally at the LGBT+ Awards in 2021, backed Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign and last year said he was “proud” to support the initiative and “football is for everyone”. 

His £12 million ($14.5 million) transfer to Al-Ettifaq was criticised by fan groups, with Pride in Football saying the move was “disappointing”, adding that the England international had “lost the respect of so many people who valued and trusted [him]”.