Ibrahim, like many Saudi Arabian men is passionate about English football. He often joins friends at cafes that show Premier League matches in Jeddah.

The 39-year-old TV executive is gay in a Kingdom where homosexuality is punished with death. 

It is therefore a source of quiet optimism, he said, that the football industry is trying to eradicate homophobia, at minimum in the West.

He supports Al-Ittihad and Chelsea, and occasionally watches the English team on TV at the Fiori Lounge in Al Khalidiyyah, Red Sea city. 

He was shocked when Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch, bought the club. But he believes that the new controversial era at Newcastle United is a different one.

Newcastle United's Saudi Arabian new chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan (C-L) and Newcastle United's English minority owner Amanda Staveley (C-R) react during the English Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur

Newcastle United’s Saudi Arabian new Chairman Yasir Al Rumayyan (C–L), and Newcastle United’s English minority owners Amanda Staveley and Tottenham Hotspur (C–R), react during the English Premier League match. 

A detailed view of a match official's boot with Stonewall Rainbow Laces

A detailed view of the boot of a match official with Stonewall Rainbow Laces 

Ibrahim, not his real name, says the club’s takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a group chaired by the kingdom’s unelected authoritarian ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – ‘reeked of the worst kind of hypocrisy’. 

His regime tortures political opponents, imprisons women’s rights activists, and persecutes trans and gay people.

Which is why Newcastle’s enthusiastic support for the Rainbow Laces campaign for LGBT rights leaves Ibrahim and his friends – whose lives are shaped by fear of exposure – shaking their heads in wonder.

He says, “Try explaining it the guy from around here who was arrested for waving a rainbow banner.” 

He is referring, in particular to a Jeddah doctor held by officers of the creepily-named Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in 2016. 

His crime was to raise a rainbow flag, which he claimed represented LGBT pride, from a pole high above his home.

Ibrahim says: ‘Rainbow flags – rainbow laces as well – are just too dangerous here. The threat of discovery is everywhere, so don’t draw attention to yourself.

‘Segregation of the sexes here actually facilitates gay relationships, particularly among men, but for trans people, anyone cross dressing or wearing make-up – which can get you a prison sentence – the risk of exposure is greater. Yes, there are many things that go on behind closed doors. However, we can’t be sure of our safety.

He cites Mohammad Amin as an example, who was detained by Saudi police in Riyadh at a transgender event in February 2017. 

There are many different accounts of how Mohammad died that night. 

Activists claim that he was beat by officers with clubs, hosepipes and other weapons, causing his chronic heart condition. 

Saudi Arabia denies the claims and claimed that he suffered a heart attack while in custody.

Ibrahim says that it traumatized the trans community. ‘Several of my gay friends chose to move to the US.

Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch recalls the story of a Saudi man wearing a woman’s scarf and putting on an effeminate voice. 

“A friend filmed him on her cell phone to make a joke, and the clip went viral. He was later arrested and taken to jail.

Raif Badawi, a blogger who had written about freedom of speech in Jeddah and challenging extremism, was jailed for ten year for apostasy. Flogging was abolished last year.

Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Amanda Staveley co owners of Newcastle United react during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Chelsea at St. James Park on October 30, 2021

Co-owners of Newcastle United, Mehrdad Ghodoussi & Amanda Staveley react to the Premier League match between Newcastle United & Chelsea at St. James Park, October 30, 2021

Saudi Arabia, which hosts next year’s World Cup, follows Wahhabism (a puritanical Islam) and is the only Arab nation that claims sharia (or Islamic law) as its sole code of law.

Newcastle will support the annual Rainbow Laces campaign from December 4 to 13, but Ibrahim is furious at the club for ‘turning blind eyes’ to what is happening in his homeland. 

He also doubts the claim of United With Pride, the LGBT supporters’ group, that the new ownership could improve LGBT rights in the Kingdom. 

“The idea that Newcastle can bring about positive change, as some suggest, is some hope but it is extremely naive. This is how it appears to us.

Newcastle United fans were asked to sign a pledge five years ago to make all sports more welcoming to LGBT people.

It posted a tweet of support last week for Josh Cavallo on Twitter, the Australian footballer who became the first openly homosexual male footballer in any top-flight league. It stated that “Newcastle United is right beside you, Josh.”

Soon after the comment was made, homophobic responses were received from Twitter accounts in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in Middle East.

Some Newcastle fans may view protests that highlight human rights as jealousy of the club’s wealth. However, they are being encouraged to look into the issues more closely. 

Lina al-Hathloul was a Saudi activist who campaigned for women’s rights to drive. Lina al-Hathloul was her sister who was sentenced for protesting against the regime. Absolutely. I would encourage Newcastle supporters to investigate the regime.

Human rights organisation Grant Liberty says the £300 million Newcastle takeover is an example of ‘sports-washing’. 

The theory goes as follows: Leaders are trying to position their country by associating themselves and sport [its]magic. They want to bask, and thus lighten up their image.

Lucy Rae, Grant Liberty director, adds: “The fact that Premier League let the [Newcastle]Sale go ahead is a joke. It has made a mockery its important campaigns, such as the stand up to racism and Rainbow Laces.