Government freezes all British assets held by the Oligarch including his most famous
The UK Government finally did on Thursday 10th March what it had been making noises about doing for several weeks beforehand; it froze all the British assets of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Other Russian figures sanctioned include Igor Sechin and Oleg Deripaska.
This decision has had a huge and immediate impact on Chelsea Football Club, which is one of the assets that have been frozen. Abramovich has been in a big hurry to find a buyer for the club since realising at the start of the Russia-Ukraine War that his assumed links to Vladimir Putin might be used against him. As it turns out, he did not have enough time by a long way to get a deal through. The implications for club in the medium-to-long term are probably minor, but in the short term, Chelsea is effectively in a limbo. The Government granted the club licence to play its matches, at Norwich City in the EPL (won 3-1) and at West Ham United Women in the Women’s Super League (won 4-1), both on the day of the freeze. But what happens from there is somewhat ‘up in the air’.
It should be possible for the club to secure a longer-term licence to allow it to operate fairly normally while the asset-freeze remains in place. But it is possible it will take some time and serious thrashing-out between the club’s lawyers and the relevant Government Departments before it is issued. During that delay, Chelsea may find themselves barred from playing further matches at any time, and will be unable to sell tickets, or provide food or drinks, to spectators. Chelsea will also be unable to buy or sell players, or offer new contracts to its established playing staff. Only spectators with valid tickets purchased prior to the asset-freeze will be allowed to attend what games are played. The club’s merchandise shop has been shut until further notice. The current licence does at least allow Chelsea to keep paying its staff. To add to the club’s worries, Chelsea’s shirt sponsor, the telecommunications company Three, has let it be known that it has placed its deal under review.
The Government is looking into proposals for a further extension to the licence that would allow the club to be sold on to a new owner even while on the frozen assets list. One major sticking point over that however is that there would be a requirement that Abramovich receive none of the purchasing payments. It seems unlikely that Abramovich would just let Chelsea go to someone else without receiving anything in return.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee have scheduled a hearing with Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, Football Association chief executive, Mark Bullingham, and the Premier League’s chief policy and corporate affairs officer, Helen MacNamara, for Tuesday, in response to the freeze. The situation is very fluid, and more developments could follow at any time. It is an enormous complication for the Premier League, and a credible threat to the future of one of England’s most famous clubs. It does however constitute a warning against letting an entire football club fall into the hands of just one person, and adds credence to the case for football clubs to be run as fan-co-operatives.
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