World Champions for Sale

As we have watched the sporting world react to Russia’s abhorrent invasion of Ukraine, there have been several notable responses—from EA Sports removing the Russian and Belarusian national teams from NHL 22 to UEFA moving the Champions League final out of Saint Petersburg. Each response echoing the same sentiment: a senseless and bloody invasion will not be tolerated, and we must stand with our brothers, sisters, and friends beyond the binary in Ukraine. However, there was one particular response that was incredibly surprising, Russian oligarch, and owner of the reigning FIFA Club World Champion Chelsea FC, Roman Abramovich has decided to sell the club. 

Abramovich, who was once the richest man in Russia, found himself in the center of discussion over Russia’s influence in the UK and in London, where Chelsea is located. At the very beginning of the invasion, a Member of Parliament leaked documents identifying Abramovich as a person of interest to the British government “due to his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices. An example of this is Abramovich admitting in court proceedings that he paid for political influence.” The MP went a step further, saying Abramovich’s assets should be seized. Abramovich has repeatedly denied any current ties to the Kremlin, and has launched and settled libel lawsuits for suggesting they still existed. However, just because the Chelsea owner has settled the lawsuits, does not mean he isn’t still connected. Abramovich is named in the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” which was signed into law in 2017. The Act is “to provide congressional review and to counter aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea, and for other purposes.” He is also a member of the “Navalny 35,” a group of 35-Russian individuals who are linked to the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, the leader of Russia’s opposition party, in 2020. 

In a statement published yesterday, Abramovich addressed the Chelsea faithful: “I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the Club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the Club, the fans, the employees, as well as the Club’s sponsors and partners.” The club is estimated to be worth over $3 billion. The sale announcement comes days after Abramovich left direct control of the club to the trustees of Chelsea’s charitable foundation. 

The optics of the past week aren’t exactly great for him. However, there’s a little more to this story. Abramovich is donating ALL of the proceeds from the sale. He instructed his team to create a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. “The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.” 

This is all surprising because the Russian oligarch, with questionable ties to the country’s leader, has chosen to donate billions of dollars to help the victims of a needless invasion carried out by Russian forces. In fact, he has joined almost all of the sports world in standing up for the people of Ukraine. 

We stand together and condemn Russia’s invasion of the independent and democratic nation of Ukraine.

Photo via: Front Office Sports

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3L & Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. Sad fan of the Philadelphia sports teams and Tottenham Hotspur. I enjoy writing and learning about the intersection of sports and business law, with a focus on the NHL. H2P!

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