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Opinion | Should the LGBTQ+ community be angry at Jordan Henderson for moving to Saudi League club Al-Ettifaq?

The football star's move to Saudi Arabia is cause for disappointment.

By Aarun Parmar-Cunio, Third Year, Politics and International Relations

Jordan Henderson was once seen as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, but his recent controversial move to Al-Ettifaq has left people disappointed. His actions are seemingly a slap in the face to the community, but how frustrated should we really be?

Henderson has had a prestigious career in English football, having led Liverpool to Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup and Premier League glory as club captain. On the international stage he has played 77 times for England and has represented his nation at six major tournaments, becoming somewhat of a household name.

Whilst captaining Liverpool, Henderson frequently showed allyship to the LGBTQ+ community, championing the club’s Red Together initiative, Rainbow Laces. At the time, he expressed his proudness to be club captain, advocating the cause by ‘celebrating unity, togetherness and inclusion which could not be more in keeping with the values of our club and city.’

He went on to say ‘this kind of visible support can only have a positive impact, sending the powerful message that football is for everyone and the more of us who can take this message back into our homes, workplaces and daily lives the better.’

However, his move to Al-Ettifaq, where his £700,000 a week salary will be paid by the Saudi state who punishes those guilty of homosexuality to death, has left his previous comments hollow. 3LionsPride, a fan group for LGBT England supporters, was left ‘beyond disappointed’ after his move, and former Aston Villa and Germany midfielder (and member of the LGBTQ+ community) Thomas Hitzlsperger, wrote an article expressing his view of Henderson’s old comments as ingenuine. The issue made it to the top of debates on Sky Sports News and talkSPORT, with Henderson subject to a wave of criticism on social media from those predominantly with more socially progressive views.

Although the anger expressed by LGBTQ+ groups at Henderson’s move to the Saudi League is justified considering his past comments, it is important for this wider wing of political thought to not lose sight of the bigger picture when striving for a more inclusive and progressive world. Why is it that Twitter cooked up a barrage of criticism against the individual’s involvement with the Saudi state, yet has historically failed to draw as much attention to our own government’s financial involvement in supporting the oppressive regime?

Take, for example, the UK’s nearly £27bn worth of arms supplied directly to the very same Saudi government guilty of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. The Saudi Air Force is entirely reliant on British funds, with UK-made weapons having been extensively used in Saudi Arabia’s devastating attacks on Yemen, attacks that killed thousands of civilians and created the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe.

Yet the Twitter ‘mob’ focuses most of its energy on holding Henderson personally accountable while largely ignoring the role of elected officials in Britain financially propping up Saudi military forces.

Of course, for those on the progressive side of politics, holding Henderson accountable for his U-turn is important to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community who clearly feel disappointed with his decision to move. But to only focus on this feels counterproductive in achieving a more structurally inclusive world.

Photo by Jannes Glas on Unsplash

Instead of just holding individuals with little political power to account, we must at least attempt to apply pressure to those with large political power, who are entangled in far worse moral bankruptcies with the very same state. After all, the British government is more than happy to see the LGBTQ+ community and allies direct their anger at Henderson rather than at themselves, as they can continue to sell weapons unscrutinised.

Issues like arms sales, which are largely ignored by progressive advocates, maybe a reflection of a sense of hopelessness about what can and cannot be changed. People may feel that applying pressure to individuals like Henderson is more likely to affect the attitudes of future LGBTQ+ allies, therefore furthering their cause incrementally.

But wider discussions must be held in order to raise awareness around injustices at a higher level. Many people who are rightfully outraged by the Henderson saga are not aware of wider issues like British arms sales to the Saudi government, as these are not brought into the limelight nearly as frequently. It is the responsibility of those aspiring for a more inclusive world to bring this to the forefront of discussions in order to tackle the status quo effectively.

Featured Image: Unsplash/Afdhallul Ziqri

Have you found Jordan Henderson's move to Al-Ettifaq disappointing and hypocritical? Get in touch and let us know what you think @Epigram_Paper.