Former Premier League star slams Jordan Henderson over Saudi Arabia move

Former Premier League star slams Jordan Henderson over Saudi Arabia move

Henderson had gained a reputation for being an ally of the LGBT+ community

Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

One of Jordan Henderson’s former Premier League stars has questioned whether his support for LGBT+ rights was “genuine” after he left Liverpool for Saudi Arabia.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, the highest profile professional footballer to come out as gay in 2013, expressed his disappointment at Henderson’s decision to join Al Ettifaq in a £12m deal.

He said: “So Jordan Henderson finally gets his move to Saudi Arabia. Fair play to him, he can play wherever he wants to play.

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“Curious to know though how the new brand JH will look like. The old one is dead! I did believe for a while that his support for the LGBT+ community would be genuine. Silly me…”

Henderson had gained a reputation for being an ally of the LGBT+ community after putting out various statements condemning homophobia in recent years.

The England vice-captain previously expressed shock over Qatar's human rights record before the World Cup.

He wrote in a Liverpool match day programme 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.

“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.”

That reputation is now in tatters. Same-sex relationships are illegal in Saudi Arabia, while the gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death.

There is evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, according to campaign group Human Dignity Trust, and LGBT people are regularly subjected to discrimination and violence.

Hitzlsperger, who played for Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton, as well as gaining 55 caps for Germany, is one of several in the footballing world to slam Henderson for moving to a Saudi club, which many see as tacit acceptance of the kingdom’s stance on LGBT+ rights.

Liverpool LGBT+ fan group Kop Outs joined the chorus of disapproval after Henderson announced the deal.

The organisation tweeted that when Henderson met Paul Amann, founder of Kop Outs, in August 2021, Jordan “said if there's ever anything I can do to help, just ask”.

“So the ask is to stand by your words as a professed ally & champion of #LGBT+ rights, of women's rights and of basic human dignity. Don't go to Saudi.”

Nonetheless, Henderson looks unlikely to be the last Premier League footballer to move to Saudi Arabia, after huge investment from the kingdom in sports such as football and golf as part of a move to burnish its previously faltering global reputation.

Cristiano Ronaldo started the influx at the start of the year. Henderson is joining state-owned Al-Ettifaq, the club managed by his former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.

The 33-year-old had initially rebuffed the approach but it seems it was too lucrative to turn down, with reports he will triple his current £200,000-a-week salary.

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