Amnesty International has called on Jordan Henderson to speak out against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia after Liverpool agreed a deal to sell their captain to Saudi Pro League side Al-Ettifaq.
The 33-year-old has reportedly reached a verbal agreement on a contract worth £700,000 a week, with the clubs having agreed a £12 million fee, the PA news agency understands.
He would be joining up with former Reds teammate Steven Gerrard, who was appointed manager earlier this month.
LGBT+ groups have warned the England midfielder that his reputation as an ally to the community could be irreparably damaged if he accepts the offer, having previously been a vocal proponent of inclusivity in the game.
Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, while the state stands accused of a host of other abuses including placing harsh restrictions on women’s rights and the right to political protest.
Critics including Amnesty have claimed that the regime of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman seeks to ‘sportswash’ the country’s international reputation by luring world football stars to the Pro League, with Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo amongst the most prominent players to have moved.
“Coming shortly after Steven Gerrard’s move to Al-Ettifaq, this looks very much like more Saudi sportswashing as huge amounts of Saudi wealth continues to pour into the purchase of star players, new events and even the acquisition of entire clubs,” said Amnesty’s UK economic affairs director, Peter Frankental.
“With every major signing Saudi Arabia is seemingly ratcheting up its sportswashing effort, with the overall strategy apparently one where Mohammed Bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia is increasingly associated with sport and entertainment, not repression and human rights abuse.
“While Saudi sportswashing gathers pace, there’s been a sustained human rights crackdown in the country, with peaceful activists intimidated and jailed, as many as 196 people executed last year alone, and (dissident journalist) Jamal Khashoggi’s sickening murder covered up.
“Jordan Henderson is of course free to play for whoever he chooses, but we would urge him to examine Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and be prepared to speak out about human rights violations in the country.”
Henderson has been in Germany on Liverpool’s pre-season tour but was left out of the squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Karlsruhe.
Chelsea have sold three players this summer to Saudi clubs, with N’Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy having left west London, whilst a £30m deal was agreed on Wednesday for Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez to join Al-Ahli for.
Frankental added: “On the one hand it would be deeply concerning if sporting figures like Henderson were expected to read from a script praising Saudi Arabia as part of their contractual commitments, but the real onus is on FIFA and other sporting bodies to ensure that Saudi Arabia’s growing involvement in sport doesn’t involve human rights violations.
“If, as rumoured, we end up with a Saudi bid to host the World Cup in the 2030s FIFA must rigorously assess any bid according to proper human rights criteria, and we would urge FIFA to consider Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing as part of this assessment.”