What Does Roman Abramovich Being Sanctioned Mean For Chelsea FC?

The Russian oligarch has had all of his assets - including the Champions League holders - frozen by the government.
Chelsea fans during a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea fans during a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge.
Steven Paston via PA Wire/PA Images

The government has this morning announced that seven more Russian oligarchs are being sanctioned in response to their country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The most high-profile is undoubtedly Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club.

It means all of his assets - including the Stamford Bridge club - have been frozen.

So what does this mean in practical terms for the team, who just last month were crowned world champions, and the millions of people around the world who support them?

First, a bit of history

Roman Abramovich became the owner of Chelsea FC in 2003, having bought it from Ken Bates for £60 million.

He set about turning the west London club - which had not won a league title since 1956 - into the best team in England in a spending spree which had never been seen before.

Hundreds of millions of pounds were lavished on the side, leading to unprecedented levels of success for the club.

During his time in charge, Chelsea have won no fewer than 19 trophies, including five Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues.

The beginning of the end

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK government - along with other western countries - unveiled a range of economic sanctions aimed at putting pressure on President Vladimir Putin.

These initially focused on the Russian economy, but were soon expanded to target wealthy oligarchs with substantial financial interests in the UK.

Last month, Boris Johnson was forced to issue a humiliating correction after wrongly claiming in the House of Commons that Abramovich had already been sanctioned.

Nevertheless, on February 26 the Chelsea owner appeared to pre-empt any action by announcing that he was handing “stewardship and care” of the club to a charitable foundation.

It was the clearest sign yet that Abramovich’s time in charge at Stamford Bridge was coming to an end.

Chelsea for sale

Just four days later, Abramovich announced that he was putting Chelsea up for sale.

In a rare public statement, he said: “As I have stated before, I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart. In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the club, the fans, the employees, as well as the club’s sponsors and partners.”

Abramovich said that was writing off a loan of around £1.5bn he had given the club, and would hand any profit from the sale to a new charitable foundation “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine”.

However, it was clear that any sale would be put on hold if the Chelsea owner was sanctioned before he could offload the club.

Abramovich sanctioned

As the sanctions on Abramovich, his former business partener Oleg Deripaska, Igor Sechin, Andrey Kostin, Alexei Miller, Nikolai Tokarev and Dmitri Lebedev were confirmed, foreign secretary Liz Truss did not hold back in her condemnation.

She said: “Today’s sanctions show once again that oligarchs and kleptocrats have no place in our economy or society. With their close links to Putin they are complicit in his aggression.

“The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame.”

What now for Chelsea?

Ahead of Chelsea’s game at Burnley last weekend, a minute’s applause for the people of Ukraine was punctured by the away end singing the praises of Roman Abramovich. Those fans may have a different view as it becomes clear what his sanctioning means for their club.

In a series of tweets, culture secretary Nadine Dorries acknowledged that the move would have a “direct impact on Chlesea and its fans”.

She said the government was “issuing a special licence that will allow fixtures to be fulfilled, staff to be paid and existing ticket holders to attend matches while, crucially, depriving Abramovich of benefiting from his ownership of the club”.

A spokesman for the prime minister later told reporters: “The principle has been to try and mitigate the impact on fans and the wider football pyramid.

“The measures are designed to punish those close to Putin and ensure any revenue generated cannot make its way through to the Russian war machine.

“We will continue to work closely with Chelsea and the Premier League going forward.”

This means that only fans with season tickets will be able to attend Chelsea’s home matches. No one - such as supporters without season tickets or away fans - will be able to go to matches at Stamford Bridge for the foreseeable future.

It also means that the proposed sale of the club is now on hold, unless Abramovich can get special dispensation from the government and show that he will not benefit personally if a new owner is found.

The club’s merchandise shop is closed, although catering will still be provided at matches, and up to £500,000 can still be spent by the club on security and stewarding per fixture.

It is understood that the club is allowed to repay transfer money owed to other clubs, but that all income - including prize money - is frozen.

The sanctions are also likely to mean Chelsea is effectively under a transfer embargo, meaning it will be unable to buy players until the situation is resolved, or offer new contracts to those already on the club’s books.

How have the fans reacted?

In a statement, the Chelsea Supporters Trust said: “The CST notes with concern the Government’s statement regarding the owner. Supporters must be involved in any conversation regarding ongoing impacts on the club and its global fan base.

“The CST implores the Government to conduct a swift process to minimise the uncertainty over Chelsea’s future, for supporters and for supporters to be given a golden share as part of a sale of the club.”


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