By Samantha Bader, Co-President
In yet another example of the many impacts that the illegal invasion of Ukraine has had around the world, the Premier League football club Chelsea is about to be sold. Chelsea had been previously owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, and when the British government announced the sanctions they were implementing against certain Russian nationals, Abramovich was included on that list.
In the immediate aftermath of Putin’s invasion, Abramovich tried to avoid having to sell his club. Instead, he promised that all profits from the club would go to charities supporting Ukrainian refugees. However, Abramovich was quickly sanctioned, with the Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation making a clear case that he funnelled money back to the Kremlin, and is a strong supporter of Putin.
“Abramovich is associated with a person who is or has been involved in destabilising Ukraine and undermining and threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, namely Vladimir Putin, with whom Abramovich has had a close relationship for decades,” a statement from the Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions read. “This association has included obtaining a financial benefit or other material benefit from Putin and the Government of Russia.”
Some of the benefits that Abramovich has experienced were tax breaks, and being given contracts from the state at below market rates. The sanctions placed on him have meant that Chelsea was hamstrung in what they could do. Under Abramovich’s ownership, they would be unable to sell new tickets, sign new contracts, and participate in the transfer window. The club also lost key sponsors, with Three, their main apparel sponsor, jumping ship and others ‘reevaluating their partnerships’.
All of this led to one end – Abramovich had to sell, and he announced that he would in March. The British government will permit the sale, but it is unlikely that Abramovich will receive any of the money generated from the sale. The Raine Group, the bank tasked with handling the sale, reportedly received 20-30 bids, and are now in the process of whiting it down to a shortlist of 2-3 to be presented to the British government. Abramovich’s asking price was three billion pounds, but it is more likely that the club will sell for between 2-2.5 billion pounds.
Some notable names from the American sports world have supposedly entered bids to buy the club. The Ricketts family, who own the Chicago Cubs and Chicago-based billionaire Ken Griffin, the Citadel CEO have teamed up to place a bid, as has Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and former ambassador to the UK under Donald Trump. Not all Chelsea fans are thrilled with the idea of either taking over, with Johnson being viewed as highly incompetent when it comes to running a sports franchise, and Joe Ricketts having made multiple racist comments about Muslims, including, “Muslims are my enemy”.
No matter who wins the bid, Chelsea will have new ownership for the first time since 2003. Abramovich has long been a recipient of favours from the Kremlin, and has benefited from the British government turning a blind eye to his political allegiances, but it seems that he has run out of room to manoeuvre at last.