Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of England’s Chelsea FC, one of soccer’s biggest clubs, said Wednesday that he is selling the franchise, with the proceeds to go to a foundation that will benefit war victims in Ukraine.
“I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Abramovich, who has close ties to Russia president Vladimir Putin, is reportedly seeking between £3 billion-£4 billion for the English club, which he effectively purchased in 2003 for £140 million. The team has vaulted to become one of the best in the world and has won the Premier League title five times and the UEFA Champions League title twice among 18 trophies since he took over.
The news comes after Abramovich, one of Russia’s richest people, said last week he would hand over stewardship of the club to its trustees in the aftermath of Russia invading Ukraine. Over the weekend the Jerusalem Post reported Abramovich was contacted by Ukraine and flew to Belarus to assist in ongoing peace talks.
“The sale of the Club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process,” Abramovich said today. “I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and Club. Moreover, I have instructed my team to set up 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.”
International sanctions against Russia and its oligarchs have been growing in response to the invasion. Last week, a member of the British Parliament read a leaked 2019 Home Office document linking Abramovich to Putin and “corrupt activity and practices,” questioning whether the billionaire should be allowed in Great Britain.
There had been concern that if the UK government were to begin seizing assets of Russians with links to Putin that Chelsea would be in the crosshairs, which would complicate efforts to sell or even run the team.
“Please know that this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and it pains me to part with the Club in this manner,” Abramovich said in his statement today. “However, I do believe this is in the best interest of the Club.” He added: “It has been a privilege of a lifetime to be part of Chelsea FC and I am proud of all our joint achievements. Chelsea Football Club and its supporters will always be in my heart.”
As for the team, the move comes as the team currently sits in third place in the standing and is fighting for a top four finish along with Manchester United, West Ham and Arsenal which would ensure them a spot in the next Champions League competition. Manchester City and Liverpool are currently first and second in the table, respectively.