UK sports minister Nigel Huddleston believes a “more robust” approach needs to be taken by the Premier League with regards to its owners’ and directors’ test.
The sanctioning of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich by the UK government and English soccer’s top flight amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shone an uncomfortable light on who can own clubs in the league.
Huddleston would not be drawn on British government plans for the fan-led review of domestic soccer or whether Abramovich had been good or bad for the sport.
But he told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee: “The government did not make decisions relating to those acquisitions but they were subject to the Premier League’s own owners’ and directors’ tests.
“The Premier League are also assessing that test. We do recognise there is a need for further refinement and more robust owners’ and directors’ tests and the integrity element of that is something that is being pushed.”
On Abramovich, Huddleston added: “Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned and he has been sanctioned for a reason, because he has links to Vladimir Putin.
“That is a signal in itself that in terms of his fitness to run a club, that is clearly not the case now. In terms of historic investment, I can’t comment much further.”
Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on 2nd March, pledging to write off the Blues’ UK£1.5 billion (US$1.96 billion) debt and to divert all proceeds to a new foundation to benefit victims of the war in Ukraine.
The 55-year-old moved to sell Chelsea after 19 years at the Stamford Bridge helm amid Russia’s continued war in Ukraine.
The UK government sanctioned Abramovich after claiming to have proved his direct links to Putin’s Russian regime, although Chelsea’s owner has always denied any association.
Huddleston added: “We are working with Chelsea and the fans that the measures we have put in place primarily impact Roman Abramovich and make sure he does not benefit, whilst making sure that where possible we can reduce the impact on the fans and make sure Chelsea can still continue.
“Can the government allow an entity to fail? Yes it can, whether it’s sport or football or anything else, but what we want to do is make sure the impact of sanctions hits those we want.
“It’s not intended to harm other entities or the overall sports ecosystem.”
UK sporting institutions have introduced a range of sanctions against Russian counterparts and Huddleston indicated that would continue as long as Russia remains a global “pariah”.
He said: “There’s a lot of money in sport and a lot of money in football and I think we can manage perfectly well without Russian investment overall. There’s plenty of other investors around the world who we can work with.
“I really cannot see circumstances for quite a long period of time where we’re going to welcome that money back, I genuinely can’t.
“I don’t think it would be morally acceptable, it may in many cases not be legally possible because we’ll still have considerable sanctions imposed on many entities and I don’t think fans around the world, and in particular in this country, would find that acceptable either.
“The reasons these sporting sanctions matter is precisely because Putin loves nothing better than wrapping himself in the flag and putting himself on the world stage.
“I think it’s going to be quite a while before we accept Russia back onto the world sporting stage.”
Premier League owners' test must be more robust, says UK sports minister – SportsPro – SportsPro Media