Jordan Henderson has attempted to apologise for any hurt he has caused to the LGBTQ+ community and says his move to Saudi Arabia can help the gay rights movement.
The England midfielder was a high-profile and vocal supporter of LGBTQ+ rights as Liverpool captain but has been heavily criticised after agreeing to a lucrative switch to the Saudi Pro League club Al-Ettifaq.
In an interview with The Athletic (£), the 33-year-old said the angry reaction to his move to a country which criminalises homosexuality has hurt him and hopes his presence in Saudi Arabia can help bring about positive change. He also said he would not “rule out” wearing rainbow laces while playing for Al-Ettifaq.
Henderson said: “I can understand the frustration. I can understand the anger. I get it. All I can say around that is that I’m sorry that they feel like that. My intention was never, ever to hurt anyone. My intention has always been to help causes and communities where I felt like they have asked for my help.”
When told the England LGBTQ+ fan group Pride in Football had urged its followers to turn their backs on him, Henderson said: “It hurts to hear that. I do care. I’m not one of these people who goes home, forgets about everything and is just like: ’I’m fine, my family is fine, just crack on’. I do think about things a lot.
“But at the same time, I knew people can look at it like that and they’re entitled to their opinion, they’re entitled to feel like that. All I can say is that I apologise, I’m sorry that I’ve made them feel that way. But I haven’t changed as a person.”
Henderson said he understands the criticism he received, but insists his values and beliefs have not changed. “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,” he said. “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.
Henderson, who said he would not have agreed to the £12m move if Liverpool had wanted him to stay, said: “I have never tried to change laws or rules in England, never mind in a different country where I’m not from. So I’m not saying that I’m going there to do that.
“But what I’m saying is people know what my values are and the people who know me know what my values are. And my values don’t change because I’m going to a different country where the laws of the country might be different.
“Now, I see that as a positive thing. I see that because, from their [Saudi] side, they knew that before signing it. So they knew what my beliefs were. They knew what causes and campaigns I’ve done in the past and not once was it brought up. Not once have they said: ‘You can do this, you can’t do this’.
“And I think it can only be a positive thing to try to open up like around Qatar. In the end, around Qatar, having a World Cup there [in 2022] shined a light on certain issues where I think in the end, I might be wrong, but they changed some rules and regulations to be able to host the World Cup and I think that’s positive. That’s the way you try to create positive change.”
Al-Ettifaq were widely criticised for appearing to censor Henderson’s support for the LGBTQ+ movement by greying out his rainbow armband on an image of the player when announcing his signing on social media.
When asked if he would still wear his rainbow laces, Henderson said: “I wouldn’t rule that out. But at the same time, what I wouldn’t do is disrespect the religion and culture in Saudi Arabia. By doing something like that, if that did disrespect the religion, then no, I’m not going to do that. But if the opportunity comes where I can do it and it doesn’t, then yeah, because that’s my values.”
Henderson, who dismissed reports he was earning £700,000 a week, said he has not been asked to promote Saudi Arabia on social media as part of his deal.