The chaos engulfing Chelsea following the sanctions imposed on Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has sparked a new debate about the funds that fuel Europe’s richest league.
The Premier League club froze their assets after Abramovich was targeted by the British government following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leaving them banned from selling tickets and goods.
The accelerated sale of European champions will soon end 19 years of almost uninterrupted success for the 55-year-old owner, who has managed five Premier League titles and two Champions League victories.
Chelsea’s first home match since the imposition of sanctions was against Newcastle, whose own ownership model also drew attention after a controversial takeover in October by a consortium led by a Saudi sovereign wealth fund.
Human rights group Amnesty has expressed concerns about the acquisition, saying it was an attempt to “sport” the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record.
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe had to answer questions about dozens of executions in Saudi Arabia instead of events during the game after the Chelsea game, reflecting the increased focus on off-field issues.
Newcastle hopes to follow in the footsteps of Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City, which has become the dominant force in the Premier League over the past decade thanks to large investments.
Still, the UAE is not happy to vote for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s ‘aggression’ against Ukraine, and a recent meeting between the city’s owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and an ally of the Russian President, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The decision to avoid has sparked renewed interest in Vladimir Putin – City.
Opposition Labor Party MP Chris Bryant said it would be “nice” to see Sheikh Mansour return as owner of the city, while the government harshly criticized its meeting with Assad, saying it undermined hopes for a lasting peace in Syria.
Sports business expert Simon Chadwick told AFP that it is difficult to predict any significant change in the short term as billionaires around the world line up to buy Chelsea, despite unease over who is funding Premier League clubs.
“European football may draw money from Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, but what is left? If they leave, who will replace them? Chadwick, Professor of Global Sport at Emlyon Business School, said:
“Taking the example of Chelsea, one of the options for replacing an outgoing Russian is a consortium of American and Swiss billionaires, so the situation for English football fans will not change. »
The UK government acknowledged the need for an overhaul, publishing a fan-driven review of the sport’s handling in November.
Suggestions include the creation of a new independent regulator for English football and new owner and manager tests to ensure “only good goalkeepers” can manage clubs.
Premier League CEO Richard Masters said earlier this month that the test of league owners and managers is being reviewed and sports minister Nigel Huddleston needs to be more “solid”.
Huddleston told a parliamentary committee last week that he believes the British game is at a “turning point”.
“The fan-led review is critically important,” he said, with the government’s full response expected in the coming weeks. “We recognize that there are failures in the structure and management of English football.”
Questions about ownership and sponsorship models are not unique to the British elite.
Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain has come under criticism for taking the Spanish football federation’s Super Cup to Saudi Arabia, while competing for the eighth league title in France in 10 years.
In Germany, Schalke severed ties with Russian energy giant Gazprom, but Bayern Munich maintained its sponsorship deal with Qatar despite a fan riot that interrupted the club’s annual general meeting in November.
Football clubs and the Premier League have been criticized for ostensibly neglecting to ask inquiring questions about where their money comes from while chasing silverware in a hyper-competitive industry.
Chelsea find themselves immersed in geopolitical undercurrents that extend far beyond football, but it’s not yet clear whether the sport has an appetite for radical change.
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