Former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has offered an apology to the LGBTQ+ community following his transfer to the Saudi Pro League.
The 33-year-old faced backlash for the £12m move to Al-Ettifaq after acting as an ambassador for the community. Homosexuality and the gender expression of trans people are criminalised in Saudi Arabia, where sentences include a maximum penalty of death.
“I can understand the frustration and anger. I get it,” Henderson told The Athletic. “All I can say is that I’m sorry that they feel like that. My intention was never, ever to hurt anyone but to help causes and communities where they’ve asked for my help,” he added.
“I tried to look at it as though, by myself not going, we can bury our heads in the sand and criticise different cultures and countries from afar but then nothing will happen or change. People know my views and values before I left and still do. Having someone like that in Saudi Arabia is only a positive thing.
“There’s never been any mention of ‘you can say this or can’t say this’. It has basically been ‘you have your values and beliefs which we’ll respect but you respect ours’ and surely that’s the way it should be.”
When Henderson’s transfer from Liverpool was announced, Al-Ettifaq released a video that appeared to grey out the rainbow colours on the armband he frequently wore in support of the LGBTQ+ community. But the England international says he is unaware if that is the case.
“I didn’t know anything about it until it was out, he says. “And it’s hard for me to know and understand everything because it is part of the religion. So if I wear the rainbow armband, if that disrespects their religion, then that’s not right either.
“Everybody should be respectful of religion and culture. That’s what I think we’re all trying to fight for here in terms of inclusion and everything.
Henderson added: “The last thing I want to do is to upset you or anyone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community. All I’ve ever tried to do is help.
“And when I’ve been asked for help, I’ve gone above and beyond to help. I’ve worn the laces. I’ve worn the armband. I’ve spoken to people in that community to try to use my profile to help them. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do.
“I’m not going to sit here saying, ‘Why are they criticising me?’ I understand it. These are all the things I was thinking about, and I do care. When I hear stuff like, ‘You’ve turned your back on us’, that hurts me. I do care. I have family and friends in the LGBTQ+ community.”