What is Chelsea FC’s “special licence” following the freezing of Roman Abramovich’s assets?

War has the potential to affect everything, even football.

The UK Government has sanctioned Chelsea FC owner, Roman Abramovich (and others identified as pro-Kremlin oligarchs) for having ties to Vladmir Putin in an effort to aid Ukraine and exert pressure on Russia to cease their invasion.

Amongst the sanctions, Abramovich’s assets, including Chelsea FC, have been frozen.

Where assets are frozen, the owner can apply to HM Treasury for prohibited activities to be permitted in certain conditions (e.g. to fulfil prior contractual obligations, or in extraordinary situations) under a licence.

Where a licence is granted, Nadine Dorries (secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport) has said that it would mean Chelsea FC would be able to fulfil their fixtures, existing season ticket holders would be able to attend matches and staff would be paid; but the club would not be able to sell further tickets or sell merchandise.

Abramovich recently publicly stated his desire to sell the club and donate the sale proceeds “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine”.

The sale of the club could still proceed, subject to the licence but likely only in circumstances where Abramovich does not reap the benefits of such sale.

Where should the line be drawn when enforcing sanctions? Both the men’s and women’s section of the club are still in the FA Cup, the men’s section is still in Champions League and both sections are on course to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Chelsea FC’s continued involvement in these competitions could mean that the club and therefore Abramovic could still benefit financially from the games that are played, as prize money is awarded to clubs for entering and performing well in competitions, and money is earned from selling TV rights for games to be broadcasted worldwide.

Is there a realistic alternative? If the games were instead suspended indefinitely, or ultimately cancelled if say, the Russia-Ukraine conflict (and the asset freeze) continued for many months, then this would have a knock-on effect with other clubs in England and Europe and could lead to a major backlash and potential financial losses of others, and not only a backlash from perturbed Chelsea FC (or general football) fans – who may be upset by the notion and reality of not being able to support a team in person or buy merchandise.

Is this about “more than just football”, and should Chelsea FC fans be expected to support the Government’s stance on the Abramovich-asset freeze to support Ukraine; or should football be ‘left alone’?

My view, as a solicitor, football fan and fundamentally, someone deeply horrified by the loss of innocent lives, is: “it’s very complicated!”

Freezing assets in other circumstances (e.g. where fraud is alleged) can also be complicated, but thankfully, we’re experts in that. Contact us on 020 7315 4801 or make an enquiry.


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