EPL bans Abramovich running Chelsea, hastening need for sale

Mar 12, 2022, 5:20 AM | Updated: 4:08 pm

In an unprecedented ruling against a club owner, the Premier League ordered Roman Abramovich on Saturday to stop running Chelsea and sell up after he was sanctioned by the British government over Russia’s war on Ukraine and his close links to President Vladimir Putin.

The league board’s decision to disqualify Abramovich from being a director accelerates the end of the Russian oligarch’s 19 years in control of the reigning world and European champions but the club that transformed into a perennial trophy winner by his investment is allowed to play on.

League regulations would usually require Abramovich to relinquish control within 28 days but the British government now has a say in the sale process under the terms of the license that allows the team to continue operating despite the owner’s assets being frozen.

The government welcomed the Premier League’s move against Abramovich, characterizing the disqualification as being part of holding “those who have enabled the Putin regime” to account.

“We are open to a sale of the club and would consider an application for a license to allow that to happen,” the government said.

The government now has oversight of the buyout process which the Raine Group, an investment bank, has been working on since Abramovich last week announced, before being sanctioned, that the club was up for sale.

One consortium weighing a bid features Todd Boehly, part owner of the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and Jonathan Goldstein, a London-based property investor who is CEO of Cain International.

There was another financial hit to Chelsea on Saturday when jersey sleeve sponsor Hyundai suspended its marketing with the club until further notice and asked for its logo to be removed. It follows main jersey backer Three, the communications firm, also suspending its partnership. But jersey maker Nike is standing by Chelsea ahead of a potential takeover.

Abramovich originally hoped to divert the proceeds of a sale into a new foundation for the victims of the war in Ukraine, which he is yet to condemn Putin for launching. But the government will only sanction a sale that does not see Abramovich benefit as the government tightens the screw on influential individuals it views as enabling Putin’s regime.

The government did on Saturday ease one of the terms of the license restricting Chelsea’s finances, raising the cap on matchday spending to run Stamford Bridge from 500,000 pounds to 900,000 pounds ($1.2 million) ahead of Sunday’s Premier League game against Newcastle.

Chelsea had company credit cards from Barclaycard frozen as a result of the sanctions.

After disqualifying Abramovich, the Premier League confirmed that “the board’s decision does not impact on the club’s ability to train and play its fixtures.”

Some Chelsea fans have continued to stand by Abramovich during the opening two weeks of the war, even chanting his name at a game last weekend that the league hoped to use to show solidarity to Ukraine and the victims of Russia’s invasion.

Abramovich’s disqualification halts the reign of the competition’s first billionaire foreign owner, whose fortune turned Chelsea into one of the biggest-spending clubs in Europe and one of the game’s most successful. His investment ended Chelsea’s 50-year domestic title drought when the league was won in 2005 and the trophy has been collected another four times.

The team has collected 21 trophies since 2004 thanks to spending on players that has seen Abramovich inject more than 1.5 billion pounds ($2 billion) into Chelsea through loans he said he will not ask to be repaid.

Sanctions were imposed against Abramovich after the government called him a “pro-Kremlin oligarch” linked to “destabilizing … undermining and threatening” Ukraine where the war is into a third week. Abramovich has made no comment since being sanctioned.

Abramovich has been without a British visa since 2018 when he withdrew an application to renew his visa amid a clampdown on rich Russians after a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned in the English city of Salisbury.

Abramovich has since gained citizenship in both Israel and Portugal. But there are investigations in Portugal into how Abramovich was naturalized as a citizen based on receiving confirmation he is a descendant of Sephardic Jews. A rabbi in the city has been detained, police said Saturday, without confirming local media reports about him being questioned in relation to Abramovich gaining Portuguese nationality.

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Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain contributed to this report.

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EPL bans Abramovich running Chelsea, hastening need for sale