FC Barcelona warn LGBTQ+ supporters of ‘severe penalties’ in Saudi Arabia

FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona has warned supporters – particularly LGBTQ+ fans – to be “especially cautious” if they plan on travelling to Saudi Arabia this week for the Spanish Super Cup.

Barcelona is one of four teams traveling to the Gulf State to compete in the 2024 Super Cup and is favourite to win against Osasuna in Thursday’s (11 January) semi-final.

While fans make plans to head to Saudi Arabia to support their team, Barça has warned them that they will have to be especially cautious and “strictly respect the country’s customs and ways.”

Barcelona FC
FC Barcelona has warned LGBTQ+ supporters to be “especially cautious” if they plan on travelling to Saudi Arabia this week (Getty Images)

A list of recommendations for “foreigners on Saudi Arabian soil” posted to the official FC Barcelona website includes general warnings about severe sentences that can be imposed in Saudi Arabia for actions like buying, selling, or consuming alcohol or pork, or participating in political rallies, demonstrations and mass gatherings.

It then urges visitors to be “respectful and prudent when it comes to public demonstrations of affection”, warning that any “indecent behaviour” can lead to “severe legal consequence for foreigners.”

In particular, the guidance warns, displays of “same-sex relations” or “open displays of support for LGBTQI causes, even on social media,” will see foreigners subjected to “severe penalties.” 

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Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia, with the death penalty among the punishments for those found to have engaged in same-sex acts.

Mohamad al-Bokari: Pro-LGBT blogger tortured by Saudi Arabia authorities
Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia. (YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images)

In the event that a visitor finds themselves in an incident involving the police, FC Barcelona suggests that they contact their embassy via the emergency hotline.

FC Barcelona’s list of safety recommendations for Saudi Arabia have been criticised by Human Rights Watch, who have argued that there was a concerning “gap in information for women fans.”

“Perhaps it’s assuming they don’t exist or that they have the same needs as male fans, which is just incorrect,” Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch said, per The Guardian.

“The Saudi guardianship system presents risks to women which are not at all considered. Equally, there is no mention as to the risks in terms of information security.”

Worden also noted that Saudi Arabia has banned human rights organisations from operating on their soil, making it impossible to fully assess the risks involved in visiting.

Saudi Arabia is set to host the World Cup in 2034 (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

“You can’t meet with anyone in Saudi Arabia to do due diligence. You have no ability to do basic human rights assessments because there’s no one to meet with, they’re all in jail. 

“At the same time, you don’t carry out your responsibilities just by saying: ‘If you’re going to be a fan don’t be gay.’ And, by the way, the same goes for heterosexual fans: you can’t kiss if you win.”

Worden commented that FC Barcelona’s list of safety recommendations “serves as a reminder that there is currently no human rights framework for fans, players, journalists or anyone else travelling to Saudi Arabia for a sporting event. This is the main problem and what is required is due diligence to establish the risks people might face.”

Despite the risks facing foreign visitors – particularly women and LGBTQ+ people – who visit Saudi Arabia, the Gulf State is successfully boosting tourism through its investment in global sporting events, much to the horror of potentially vulnerable sports fans.

Last year, FIFA confirmed that Saudi Arabia was the sole bidder for the 2034 World Cup, and would stage the international tournament despite its poor human rights record.

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