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Sanctions on Roman Abramovich cannot mean business as usual – Sports Minister

Safe Standing Media Day – Stamford Bridge
(Image credit: Matt Crossick)

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston maintains sanctions on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich must mean that it cannot be “business as usual” at Stamford Bridge.

The club was put up for sale by billionaire Abramovich at the start of March in the wake of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

However, Abramovich was subsequently sanctioned by the Government over his ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, with his assets frozen.

A general view outside Stamford Bridge

Chelsea fans will not be able to buy any more tickets for home Premier League games this season (Adam Davy/PA)

Chelsea have been able to continue to operate, but under strict conditions, one of which means the club are not permitted to sell any new tickets to supporters for home Premier League matches.

While amendments have been made for away fans, cup ties and women’s fixtures – provided Chelsea do not receive any revenue – the block on any more tickets sold for home league games remains in place.

On Tuesday evening, the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (CST) called for the Government to make further changes so as not to continue to “punish” fans.

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Huddleston, though, insists there has to be ramifications for the sanctions to be meaningful.

“We have had constant dialogue with Chelsea fans because the whole strategy throughout is to be very, very clear that Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned and that has clearly had implications,” Huddleston said.

“I was very honest and open with the Chelsea fans saying ‘this will have an impact because he has been sanctioned and he is the owner of the club’.

“We have tried to make reasonable modifications to the licence to enable fans to engage with the club and continue as much as reasonably possible.

“But the sanctions do mean we’ve got to be really careful of making sure there isn’t any incremental new revenue generation that was part of the sanctions.

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“We have moderated it where we can, but as it relates to home (Premier League) of course, that’s difficult.

“I think there’s only about 4,000 tickets out of 40,000 home fans, so we’re not talking about huge volumes here.

“I continue to work with the fans, but I was very clear from day one and it’s still the case – this is not business as usual. This is a different world because the club’s owner has been sanctioned.”

Huddleston added: “It is difficult because we’ve got to make sure that the sanctions conditions are adhered to the greatest extent possible.

Sport Minister Nigel Huddleston at Stamford Bridge

Sport Minister Nigel Huddleston insists sanctions must have a meaningful impact (Matt Crossick/PA)

“The owner of the club has been sanctioned and there will obviously and inevitably be consequences of that and some temporary inconvenience for fans.

“But in the whole scheme of things, if you look at what has been enabled, with the cup games and the away games and so on, actually we have literally tried to bend over backwards to help the fans.

“There is always going to be some consequences that cause some inconvenience. I am sorry for the fans for that but you know, that’s part of being sanctioned – it is not business as usual.”

Following Abramovich’s decision to sell after 19 years at the helm, New York bank Raine Group has drawn up a shortlist of four preferred bidders, including the Ricketts family fronted by Chicago Cubs chairman Tom.

Chelsea are seeking a quick sale – one from which Abramovich must be unable to profit – and the process should be complete by the end of April.

“Overall, any of us who are football fans, sports fans, we want Chelsea to survive and there is now a route for that to happen,” Huddleston said.

“We will play what role we can and – of course – the fans are always front and centre of our thoughts.”

Tracey Crouch

Tracey Crouch’s fan-led football review also called for a new independent regulator to oversee the sport (DCMS Handout Photo/PA)

The CST had previously set out a number of expectations of the new owners, including a ‘golden share’, which would essentially give fans the right to exercise a veto over certain important decisions, as recommended by Tracey Crouch’s fan-led football review which also called for a new independent regulator to oversee the sport.

Huddleston confirmed the Government would be responding formally “pretty soon” on the report and urged Chelsea’s preferred bidders to keep fans front and centre in their future plans.

“At the moment we have got a process to go through in terms of the fan-led review and obviously, if that also requires legislation, the timescales would probably not be in time for the Chelsea deal,” he said.

“But I would encourage any potential future owner (of Chelsea) to engage with fans and listen to what they have got to say in their recommendations.”

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