Chelsea’s Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has come under renewed scrutiny after Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
In a short statement on the club’s website, Abramovich said, “I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart. I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC.”
The 55-year old purchased Chelsea for about $190 million in 2003. He was a notable absentee on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent list of sanctions against Russian state banks and private individuals and companies, with Forbes reporting his $2 billion dollar loan to Chelsea could provide him with a form of cover.
Uncertain Future for Chelsea and its owner
On the face of it, little seems likely to change for Chelsea from an operational standpoint as Abramovich has not had a hands-on role in the club’s day-to-day management in recent times. There is speculation it could simply be a way to provide legal cover to the club.
Before the announcement, Labour Party MP Chris Bryant called for Abramovich to be stripped of the club ownership citing “his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices.”
For all their tough talk, world lawmakers have been reluctant in the past to impose sanctions which would have a meaningful impact on Russian oligarchs and institutions, in part because of the potential impacts on the world economy. Europe is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy – the EU imports 41% of its natural gas from the country.
That could very well change amidst the dynamic situation in Ukraine, as the world sees more and more images from the war taking place within reach of NATO’s eastern flank.
Elsewhere in the sports world, Formula 1 team Haas has, at least temporarily, removed main sponsor Uralkali’s branding from its vehicles and clothing. As part of the sponsorship deal, Haas gave one of its two driver seats to Nikita Mazepin.
Mazepin’s father Dmitry, another oligarch, is a stakeholder and member of the board for the company, having acquired his stake with a $4.5 billion loan from Russian state bank VTB – one of the institutions hit hardest by the latest round of sanctions.
Amidst the uncertainty, Sky Sports reporter Kaveh Solhekol posted the following tweet regarding Abramovich.
It is, of course, understandable that Chelsea are caught in the midst of a complex situation. But the claim that Abramovich is not involved in politics or with Putin is misleading and lacks context. Abramovich became incredibly wealthy following the acquisition of a controlling interest in oil company Sibneft during Boris Yeltsin’s privatization of government assets in a scheme known as loans-for-shares.
He had an apartment in the Kremlin for a time in the 1990s and was reportedly the first to suggest to Yeltsin that he nominate Vladimir Putin, then widely unknown to the public, as his successor.
Abramovich then interviewed Putin’s potential cabinet members and, having become a close advisor, recommended his “successor” as president, Dmitry Medvedev (Putin remained in power, albeit from the post of Prime Minister).
While Abramovich may no longer be as close as he once was to the corridors of power, he is, like all of Russia’s oligarchs, intrinsically linked to Putin.
His situation and that of the club’s ownership from a legal standpoint could evolve quickly should the British government decide to take action against him, though at this point that seems unlikely.