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Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich gives up control of his team amid Russian invasion

Chelsea announced Saturday that owner Roman Abramovich will hand over control to the club's foundation trustees. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)
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Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich announced Saturday that he is giving “stewardship and care” of his storied London club to the team’s charitable foundation, a move that comes in the wake of growing pressure in England to sanction Russian oligarchs who are part of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

Abramovich did not give any indication that he planned to sell the club.

His announcement comes after members of British Parliament encouraged him to give up his assets, including the British soccer club. Abramovich, a Russian businessman who has owned the team since 2003, has been a supporter of Putin and could be making the move to protect the club from potential sanctions brought down against him.

“I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart,” Abramovich said in the statement. “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. I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the Club, players, staff, and fans.”

Chelsea football’s Roman Abramovich and the awkwardness of Russia sanctions

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this week, the United States, Great Britain and the European Union issued retaliatory sanctions against Russia. Abramovich, who has ties to Putin and is known for his exploits in Western jurisdictions, is seen as someone who could be targeted.

Chris Bryant, a member of the British Parliament, suggested earlier this week that Abramovich should be stripped of his Western assets including Chelsea FC. Bryant obtained what he claimed was a secret 2019 government document that spoke about Abramovich and “his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices.”

“Surely Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country,” Bryant said in Parliament. “Surely we should be looking at seizing some of his assets, including his 150-million pound home.”

Bloomberg reported Friday that there were a number of sports investors and private equity firms that were interested in buying Chelsea if Abramovich did decide to sell. In 2021, Forbes valued Chelsea at $3.2 billion, seventh in the sports world and fourth among Premier League teams behind Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City.

Abramovich, 55, bought the team in 2003 for £140 million and since then has helped Chelsea develop into one of England’s elite teams. Chelsea won last year’s Champions League title, the club’s second under Abramovich.

The team has also won two Europa League titles (2013, 2019) and this month won the FIFA Club World Cup. Chelsea, which has also won the Premier League five times since Abramovich took over, is third in the league standings entering play this weekend.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) announced Friday that the Champions League final would be moved out of St. Petersburg to Paris in response to the attack on Ukraine.