Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned by the UK governmentThe Premier League has not “worked through the consequences” if Chelsea are not sold by 31 May but believes the club will complete this season.
The comments were made at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport session about the role of Russian money in clubs.
Chelsea are operating under a special licence after owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government.
“This is an extraordinary, complex and unprecedented situation,” said Premier League policy chief Helen MacNamara.
“It is pretty new to all of us.”
Roman Abramovich: New evidence highlights corrupt dealsIs this a moment of reckoning for English football ownership?Chelsea want Middlesbrough quarter-final played behind closed doorsRussian Abramovich put the club up for sale but that process was halted after he had his British assets – including Chelsea – frozen as part of the UK government’s response to his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Abramovich was also sanctioned by the EU, with a travel ban imposed and his assets frozen.
A special licence granted by the government is allowing Chelsea’s fixtures to be fulfilled, staff to be paid and existing ticket-holders to attend matches but a new licence will need to be issued for the London club to be sold.
“At the moment, the government has issued an operating licence which allows the club to function until the end of the season on 31 May,” said McNamara.
“You can completely see, while there are grounds to allow that licence for this period of time, it can’t be a thing infinitely while the club remains in Roman Abramovich’s ownership so that situation has to be resolved.
“It’s an exceptional thing to do if someone’s assets are frozen but the Premier League is able to fund Chelsea the money that we owe them so that they can carry on paying people through this season.
“The club are already up for sale so that process is, thankfully, quite mature. We are hopeful a sale will be able to go through before that 31 May deadline.
“We haven’t worked through the consequences should the club not be sold by 31 May and what that will mean.”
She added: “What we’re trying to do at the moment is put one foot in front of the other and try to mange the issues as they come across our desks.”
Earlier on in the DCMS hearing, UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said football can “manage perfectly well without Russian investment”.
“There’s plenty of other investors around the world we can work with,” said Huddleston.
“I really cannot see circumstances for quite a long period of time where we are going to welcome that money back, I genuinely can’t.
“I don’t think it would be morally acceptable, it may in many cases not be legally possible because we will still have considerable sanctions imposed on many entities.
“I don’t think sport fans around the world and, in particular in this country, would find that acceptable either. They’ve spoken very loudly and clearly.”
Following the invasion of Ukraine, Everton suspended all dealings with Russian Alisher Usmanov’s businesses, including his company USM’s sponsorship of the training ground.
Russian football clubs and national teams have also been suspended from all competitions by world governing body Fifa and European counterpart Uefa, with other sporting sanctions also in place.
“In terms of how long those sanctions last, as long as Russia continues to be a pariah on the world stage, those sanctions will last,” said Huddleston. “Nobody knows but the person who is in control of that is Vladimir Putin.
“They will last for some time and, including Russia not being able to bid for major sporting events, it is going to be quite a while before we accept Russia back into the world sporting stage.”
‘We are at a turning point in English football’A recent Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of Newcastle United has also led to controversy.
There are concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and Magpies manager Eddie Howe was questioned on the subject following his side’s Premier League defeat by Chelsea on Sunday.
The issue of club ownership, among other issues, was looked at as part of a fan-led review into English football commissioned by the government.
Former sports minister Tracey Crouch, the chair of the fan-led review, proposed a series of measures including an independent regulator to “protect the future of our game”.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters also said the organisation is reviewing its owners’ and directors’ test as it had “been under a lot of scrutiny for the last 12 months”.
“We are at a turning point in English football,” said Huddleston. “The fan-led review is pivotally important. We recognise there are failures in the structure and governance of English football.
“If it was all working perfectly, we would never have needed the fan-led review.
“We do recognise there is a need for further refinement and more robust owners’ and directors’ tests and the integrity element of that is something that is being pushed.”
When asked about the issue, Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham questioned whether football should be held to a higher standard than other industries when it came to investment.
MacNamara, who said the top flight did not want a statutory independent regulator, highlighted that there was no owners’ and directors’ test when Abramovich took over at Chelsea and that, since coming into force in 2005-06, it had been “adapted”.
She accepted some of the criticisms of the test and had a plan to take a revised version to clubs at the end of the month and then at their annual general meeting.
“We already have an independent panel, chaired by a QC, who oversee our sanctioning regime and we are in the process of putting together an independent panel that will support the Premier League board and scrutinising their decision making on the owners’ and directors’ test,” she continued.
“If you talk to football fans from Leicester City or you see the investment Manchester City have made in communities and schools or round where they are, or Watford, or the extraordinary investment owners put in, not just on the pitch but communities they work in … it is important to make the case for owners that might not be grabbing so many headlines but are not just supporting the game but supporting the community where they are. There’s a lot of that.”
Separately from the hearing, the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust has written an open letter to the prospective new owners of the club.
They ask for “commitments on a number of fundamental issues” including a “golden share for fans to protect key items of club heritage” and “consultation with supporters through the creation of a democratically elected shadow board”.
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