LGBTQ+ football fans speak out as Saudi Arabia set to host World Cup 2034

The nation has been accused of sportswashing in recent times, using football to distract from its human rights issues.

Saudi Arabia fans holding a World Cup trophy. Both men have their faces painted green and yellow, with one wearing green sunglasses as well. They hold the gold trophy in front of them as they pose for the camera.
Image: X: @FabrizioRomano

LGBTQ+ football fans have spoken out after Saudi Arabia was as good as confirmed as the host of the 2034 men’s World Cup. The news emerged on Tuesday, October 31, after Australia chose not to submit a declaration of interest for the tournament, making the Middle Eastern country the sole bidder and guaranteed winner.

Similar to Qatar which hosted the 2022 World Cup, Saudi Arabia has a poor human rights record, with same-sex activity criminalised and punishable by life imprisonment, flogging, fines, deportation and even death. LGBTQ+ identities are seen as immoral and indecent in the country, with the community facing severe oppression and legal challenges under the current system.

The nation has been accused of sportswashing in recent times, using football to distract from its harmful policies. Over the past number of years, it has offered lucrative deals to some of the world’s most successful players, including previous Ballon d’Or winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, to attract them to the Saudi Pro League. The transfer of ex-Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson to Al-Ettifaq last summer sparked particular outrage, especially given that the Englishman had cemented himself as a proud LGBTQ+ ally in the past.

Now, with Saudi Arabia set to host the 2034 World Cup, criticism from the queer community and human rights activists has been amplified.


“#FIFA showing their true colours once again. They do not care about human rights or inclusivity. They care only about one thing: cha-ching,” Coventry City’s LGBTQ+ supporters group wrote.

“After the shocking events at the Qatar World Cup less than a year ago where LGBTIQ+ people were effectively marginalised and our concerns dismissed, we are looking for guarantees of a different approach by the Saudi authorities,” sports rights activist and chair of the Fare network, Lou Englefield commented.

Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, stated, “FIFA must now make clear how it expects hosts to comply with its human rights policies. It must also be prepared to halt the bidding process if serious human rights risks are not credibly addressed.”

Similarly, Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said: “FIFA’s human rights policy must not be reduced to a paper exercise when it comes to choosing the host of the world’s most watched sporting event.”


Saudi Arabia has until July 2024 to submit its full bid, with the host nation to be officially confirmed later that year through a FIFA Congress.

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