Abramovich announced this month he plans to sell Chelsea, as it is “in the best interest of the Club, the fans, the employees, as well as the Club’s sponsors and partners.” This came after he declared he gave “stewardship” of the club over to trustees of the club’s charitable foundation.
But the new sanctions will see his assets frozen and will prohibit “transactions with UK individuals and businesses,” the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said in a statement Thursday. The billionaire will also face a travel ban forbidding him to enter the UK.
Existing season ticket holders will be allowed to attend matches as well as fans who purchased tickets prior to Thursday.
Fans can buy food and drink at these matches, according to the statement, and under the sanctions, third party retailers who bought or produced club merchandise prior to Thursday will be allowed to sell their existing stocks as long as no money is given to Chelsea. For now, the special license lasts until May 31.
The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust — a non-profit independent trust set up to “encourage” the club’s board to “take into account the interests of all supporters” amongst other purposes — expressed “concern” over the move.
“The CST implores the Government to conduct a swift process to minimize 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.”
Ramifications for Chelsea — and its players
Ben Peppi, sports commercial expert at JMW Solicitors, told CNN Sport that unless the UK government introduces a new license, Chelsea can’t be sold.
“Abramovich won’t be allowed to put any money into the club or take any money out of it. As we know, he has funded Chelsea to the tune of billions of pounds and has a £1.5 billion ($1.98 billion) loan that Chelsea currently owes to Abramovich,” he said.
“We don’t currently know where the money to pay players is coming from — whether it just be coming from kind of day-to-day trading the business ie broadcast revenue, commercial revenue. Obviously, matchday revenue contributes to that, and we know that no new tickets can be sold, no new merchandise can be sold that benefits either the club or Abramovich — it can only benefit the retailers.”
This could have significant implications for the club, which is already seeing sponsors considering their contracts with Chelsea.
Chelsea’s shirt sponsor Three, the mobile phone and telecommunications company, said in a statement that they have asked the club to temporarily suspend its sponsorship of the club. The company had told CNN earlier on Thursday that it was reviewing its position with Chelsea after the UK government sanctioned owner Roman Abramovich.
“In light of the government’s recently announced sanctions, we have requested Chelsea Football Club temporarily suspend our sponsorship of the club, including the removal of our brand from shirts and around the stadium until further notice,” Three said in a statement.
“We recognize that this decision will impact the many Chelsea fans who follow their team passionately. However, we feel that given the circumstances, and the Government sanction that is in place, it is the right thing to do.”
Meanwhile, automotive giant Hyundai, Chelsea’s official partner since 2018, said it is “assessing the situation” following the news.
“Hyundai has become one of the strongest partners in football over the years and the company supports the sport to be a force for good. We are currently assessing the situation with Chelsea FC,” a Hyundai spokesperson told CNN.
Hyundai’s logo appears on the shirt sleeves for the men’s and women’s teams through to the Academy teams, and the current four-deal is due to come to an end this year.
“If Mr. Abramovich can’t finance the club, and you’ve also got other sources of commercial revenue coming into the club that are now going to start to basically dry out given the imposed sanctions, the long term implications are very significant if a sale isn’t made,” Peppi said.
Though Chelsea could negotiate with potential buyers, the club can’t be sold until a special license is granted, he added.
“If they’re not generating any commercial matchday revenue, and they’re not going to be able to draw on shareholder loans, where’s the money going to come from to prop up the club?
“I anticipate a new owner will be found. But it’s going to be a far different kind of sale process than it looked like it was going to be, even last week.”
The sanctions will also have implications for Chelsea’s players, Peppi said.
“The immediate short term players whose contracts are running down means that those players are entitled to essentially leave on a free transfer at the end of the season because they’re out of contract.”
For players with contracts beyond the end of the season, nothing will change until May 31st, Peppi said.
In the long term, he said, “it goes to this wider, wider theme around the kind of cultural political, social impact of football as being way more powerful than it ever has been.
“And are players going to want to sign for Chelsea — for a club like Chelsea, a club like Newcastle — where they know the volatility of the situation with regards to the ownership structure of the football club?”
Abramovich is worth an estimated £9.4 billion ($12.36 billion), according to the UK government.
The UK is “absolutely determined” to sanction Russian oligarchs, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said this month, adding that the UK was working through “a further list” of oligarchs to sanction.
“There is nowhere for any of Putin’s cronies to hide,” Truss continued.
Separately, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, announced on Thursday it had suspended its “strategic partnership” with Abramovich, after announcing last month that the billionaire had pledged funding to its “endeavors in the areas of Holocaust research and remembrance.”
The donation would have helped support Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research for five years and build it a new building. Additionally, the donation would have created “two new versions of The Book of Names unique memorial to the victims of the Holocaust,” according to Yad Vashem’s announcement at the time.
CNN’s George Ramsay, Aleks Klosok and Hadas Gold contributed reporting.