The Barcelona football club has cautioned their supporters to exercise caution and maintain a low profile if they plan on traveling to Saudi Arabia for the Spanish Super Cup this week. In an unusual statement, the club also emphasized the importance of adhering to the customs and traditions of the country.
The decision by the Spanish champions to post a lengthy series of recommendations “for foreigners in Saudi Arabia” has been criticised by Human Rights Watch as being both insufficient to protect supporters and indicative of the lack of a “human rights framework” for operating in Saudi, the sole bidder to host the Fifa men’s World Cup in 2034.
On the Barcelona website, the club provided instructions for fans planning to attend the Super Cup semi-final match against Osasuna in Riyadh on Thursday evening.
“FC Barcelona and the Real Federación Española de Futbol, under instruction of the Spanish embassy in Riyadh, have prepared a series of safety recommendations for travelling supporters,” the page reads, before listing guidance which includes not just an adherence to local customs but remaining “especially cautious” when travelling outside major cities and avoiding both “large gatherings of people” and “any activities that the government considers to be breaches of social peace and public order”.
The briefing advised LGBTQ+ supporters to refrain from sharing their experiences on social media or face harsh consequences. It also urged individuals to show discretion and respect when displaying affection in public.
Engaging in inappropriate behavior, such as anything of a sexual nature, can result in serious legal repercussions for individuals from other countries. Homosexual relationships may also face harsh punishments, and showing support for LGBTI causes, even on social media, can carry severe consequences.
Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, expressed that the briefing highlighted the difficulties of working in Saudi Arabia, not only due to what was included but also what was left out. She noted, “There seems to be a lack of information regarding female fans. It could be assumed that they do not exist or have the same needs as male fans, which is simply incorrect. The Saudi guardianship system poses risks for women that have not been taken into account. Additionally, there is no mention of potential risks related to information security.”
“This notification serves as a reminder that there is currently no established human rights guidelines for individuals such as fans, players, journalists, or any other travelers attending a sporting event in Saudi Arabia. This lack of regulation is a major concern and it is crucial to conduct thorough research to identify potential risks that individuals may encounter.”
The government of Saudi Arabia has prohibited the operation of human rights groups within its borders, hindering the ability to thoroughly evaluate potential hazards. Meanwhile, it is increasing its funding for sports events, such as the World Cup and Asian Winter Games in 2029, in hopes of attracting more foreign visitors to the country.
Worden stated that conducting due diligence in Saudi Arabia is not possible as there are no individuals available to meet with due to their incarceration. Simply stating that being a fan means not being gay is not enough to fulfill one’s responsibilities. This also applies to heterosexual fans, as they are not allowed to kiss if their team wins.