(John Walton / Associated Press)


Opinion: An unlikely casualty of the war in Ukraine: The Chelsea Football Club

Russia's war in Ukraine sparked conflict in the football world as the UK enforced sanctions that halted the functioning of the Chelsea Football Club.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/jakeshubin/" target="_self">Jake Shubin</a>

Jake Shubin

March 29, 2023

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the United States and its allies imposed harsh economic penalties to cut the nation off from the financial marketplace and weaken its military strength.

Outraged private companies followed suit and stopped doing business with Russia to further weaken its economy, and as a result, its military strength. This included Russia’s loss of big banks and consulting firms. Even Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Levi’s, and Mcdonald’s were impacted. However, economic sanctions also had implications in the area of sports, especially soccer. 

First, the two primary governing organizations — the International Federation of Association Football and the Union of European Football Associations — decided to suspend both the men and women Russian teams indefinitely, which means that Russia will likely not play in the World Cup in Qatar.

In fact, other teams, like Poland, had already pledged to boycott the entire tournament if Russians were to play in order to demonstrate their moral outrage. Additionally, the Champions League Final was moved from St. Petersburg, Russia to Paris to avoid tension. 

Perhaps most notably, though, is the United Kingdom’s sanction of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, because of his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to The Guardian. These sanctions prevented Abramovich from in any way benefitting from his ownership of the Chelsea Football Club.

He was not permitted to supply any money to the club to enable its basic functioning, nor was the club allowed to derive profits from the sale of tickets or merchandise. Without its primary means of making profit, the team was quickly running through its existing funds with great uncertainty as to how it could continue until a new owner was found. 

Abramovich recognized that his ownership under the UK sanction was preventing the team from continuing to thrive. Ultimately, his dedication to the team and love for the sport led him to the conclusion that the only and best way for Chelsea to prosper would be for him to sell the club to a new owner. As a result, Abramovich decided to sell Chelsea to part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ted Boehly, who recently purchased Chelsea for $5.25 billion, the most expensive transaction for a team in world sports. 

After owning the team for 19 years and investing more than $2 billion, Abramovich was not able to make a cent of profit. All of his proceeds from the sale went to a foundation supporting Ukrainian victims of the war.

But, Abramovich said this “has never been about business nor money,” according to Sports Illustrated’s FanNation Futbol.

Abramovich told Forbes: “At the time, I just saw this incredible game and that I wanted to be a part of that in one way or another.”

As a testament to the tremendous talent and willpower of the Chelsea team, they were able to remain victorious even without cash flow and under sanction. They continued to compete in one of the most difficult leagues in the world and finished third, qualifying for the most important European tournament, the Champions League.

Chelsea also earned a much-needed 15 million euros in addition to 37.4 million euros for finishing 3rd in the Premier League, according to The Premier League. These earnings will be helpful to them as they look ahead to buying and selling players in the summer transfer window, leading to the new season when new owner Boehly will officially get control of the team. 

The UK sanctions added tremendous pressure on the Chelsea teammates and fans, but the good news is that now the team can compete with the knowledge that they also made a powerful statement for human rights, a greater victory than any single match. Go Chelsea!