Roman Abramovich: Billionaire philanthropist or warmongering oligarch? – Freddie C

If you follow football then you are likely aware that Roman Abramovich, now ex-owner of Chelsea Football Club, has chosen to sell his beloved team as he believes it is ‘in the best interest of the club’. To the surprise of many he has requested to his team that a charitable foundation be set up where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. This money will aid all Ukrainian victims from the Russia-Ukraine war. Abramovich has already received a few offers for the club, one of which a joint offer, coming from Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and American businessman Todd Boehly. But none yet have been able to reach his £4 billion benchmark. The timing of his decision to sell the club opens the door to a vast amount of questions, well it certainly has for me. Is this decision self-motivated? Should he still be sanctioned? Or is he just doing a good thing? I hope to answer some of these questions in this article. 

Roman Abramovich has so far evaded economic sanctions in the UK, which has not been the case for other oligarchs such as Alisher Usmanov and Igor Shuvalov. The leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, questioned Boris Johnson in last week’s PMQ over why Abramovich has yet to be sanctioned, and the feeling is that the charitable way in which he is selling Chelsea has meant his assets and accounts haven’t been frozen…yet. This stimulates the notion that he is selling the club, not by choice and desire to do a good deed, but rather by obligation as it is the only way he can keep his assets that are stored in UK accounts. 

Needless to say, much of Chelsea’s success over the last two decades has been largely due to the immense sums of cash that he has put into the team’s transfer budget. In the last ten years alone, they have won 2 Champions Leagues, 2 Premier Leagues and 2 FA cups. To me, it seems illogical that he claims this ‘in the best interest of the club’. On the other hand, if his assets were to be frozen, then he would have no money to pump into the club and this could potentially result in unpaid staff and Chelsea would inevitably lose access to the enormous transfer budget that are currently accustom to. Or maybe his personal interest align with the club’s, and the selling of the club followed by a grand donation to a definitely worthy cause is the best way of avoiding sanctions for Abramovich. 

In my opinion, regardless of Roman Abramovich’s generosity, he should still be sanctioned as should all Oligarchs if the UK are to show their unanimous support for Ukraine. Let’s be clear, Roman Abramovich made vast sums of cash from benefiting from the privatisation of state assets in the early 90s. Yeltsin promised his oligarchs cheap prices on these assets provided they supported him on his quest to be re-elected as Russian President. Abramovich made his billions at a time where the people of Russia were struggling to put food on the table, and one good deed shouldn’t overshadow the lack of regard he had for the Russian people. The sale of Chelsea, whilst it may benefit the people of Ukraine and probably the club itself, is in my eyes simply a means for Abramovich to claim his assets before he is sanctioned by the UK. 

*UPDATE* this piece was written before the news came out that Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned by the UK government. An announcement from the Foreign Office said the measures will see Abramovich have “his assets frozen, a prohibition on transactions with UK individuals and businesses, a travel ban and transport sanctions imposed”. This means that he will be unable to sell Chelsea.

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