Newcastle United LGBTQ+ fan group has left the Pride in Football network after receiving backlash for supporting the recent Saudi buyout.
Back in October, the English Premier League football club was sold to a group led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
The takeover was met with mixed reactions from fans with some pointing out the country’s controversial history regarding human rights.
At the time of the buyout, the United with Pride group released a statement that said the change of ownership could have a “positive influence to improving the conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia.”
Shortly after announcing their support, the group faced immense backlash from activists which resulted in them exiting the Pride in Football network.
United with Pride’s departure was confirmed by the network in a statement earlier this week.
“LGBT+ fans groups have faced increasing media attention since the takeover of Newcastle United given the questions raised around human rights.” the statement said.
“As we stated at the time, we have serious questions around the governance of the game and suitability of the tests for club owners and directors.
“It is also worth noting for those unfamiliar with our groups that, primarily, we are volunteers and we work on inclusion within the sport because we love football. No football fan should be excluded because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Our work in this area will continue, and we shall continue to raise the case of human rights — whether in relation to the Saudi Arabian takeover of Newcastle United or the hosting of the World Cup 2022 in Qatar or issues around inclusion on the terraces in the UK.
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“Whilst any member leaving Pride in Football is a sad moment, we would like to reiterate our commitment to campaign for LGBT+ inclusion, visibility and acceptance in sport and society.”
Ian Pearson-Brown, who is the co-chair of United with Pride, also opened up about the situation in a statement to the BBC.
“We all knew there was going to be a lot of spotlight and interest on our views from a human rights perspective,” he said.
“But the narrative has been hijacked by some people who believe that we, as football fans, should be doing something about the human rights issues in Saudi Arabia because our owner is from that country and has taken a role in running it.”
Pearson-Brown went on to say that even though they are no longer part of the LGBTQ+ network, that doesn’t mean that they will be a “puppet” for the team moving forward.
“We can’t do anything at present about conditions in Saudi Arabia. If we get the chance to do that further down the line with our relationship with Newcastle United, then we will absolutely do it,” he said.
“And if we get a sense for a second that we’re being used as a puppet by some regime, then you’ll find we’ll be releasing a different statement – and you may well see us protesting outside of the stadium.
“But until that happens, we’re not going to jump the gun and burn all our bridges. That doesn’t mean our members are not empathetic with the people of Saudi Arabia. It just means they want us to take a pragmatic approach.”
Homosexuality is still criminalised in Saudi Arabia with penalties ranging from fines, floggings, life in prison, death and torture.