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Barcelona warn LGBTQ+ fans they could face ‘severe penalties’ in Saudi Arabia

Barcelona are in action this week in Riyadh (AFP via Getty Images)
Barcelona are in action this week in Riyadh (AFP via Getty Images)

Barcelona have warned their LGBTQ+ fans they could face “severe punishment” in Saudi Arabia should they engage in any acts of a sexual nature in the Gulf country this week.

Barcelona are in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for the Spanish Super Cup, and thousands of fans have travelled for the three-match tournament. Real Madrid beat city rivals Atletico 5-3 on Thursday night, and Barca play Osasuna in the other semi-final before the Sunday’s final.

The club issued a lengthy statement on their website, telling supporters to be cautious in their behaviour in the country, where same-sex relations are illegal.

“People are advised to be respectful and prudent when it comes to public demonstrations of affection,” the statement said. “Indecent behaviour, including any action of a sexual nature, can lead to severe legal consequence for foreigners. Same-sex relations can also be subjected to severe penalties, as well as open displays of support for LGBTI causes, even on social media.”

The Spanish Super Cup is one small part of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious efforts to be a global player in the world of sport. The country has committed vast investment into staging F1 races and boxing fights, paid huge transfer fees and wages to lure elite footballers to the Saudi Pro League, and offered lucrative prize money to disrupt to status quo in golf and horse racing.

But Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Barcelona’s statement highlighted the challenges of hosting sporting events in Saudi Arabia.

“This briefing serves as a reminder that there is currently no human rights framework for fans, players, journalists or anyone else travelling to Saudi Arabia for a sporting event,” said Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at HRW. “This is the main problem and what is required is due diligence to establish the risks people might face.”