The Charity Commission has contacted Chelsea’s charitable foundation to ask for more information about Roman Abramovich’s plan to pass the care and stewardship of the club to the organisation’s trustees, who are yet to agree to the new arrangement.
Abramovich’s decision to relinquish the running of Chelsea came after a call in parliament for him to face sanctions and the move has come under growing scrutiny since it was announced on Saturday evening. The Russian has not given up his ownership of the club and the foundation’s trustees are understood to feel there are legal and regulatory problems, as well as ethical concerns, about the change of stewardship.
There are several unanswered questions about the move and the trustees are unsure about whether running a football club would be compatible with charity law. They do not know who they would be answerable to, whether a separate entity would need to be created and whether there would be liability over future decisions. It also remains unclear whether sanctions will be imposed on Abramovich, while Chelsea are at risk of being in a vulnerable financial position if their owner is targeted by the UK government.
Abramovich, who has vehemently denied he has any links to Vladimir Putin and Russia or that he has done anything to merit being sanctioned, was said to have reached his decision to transfer stewardship because of the increased focus on him following the invasion of Ukraine. The haste with which the move was made was said to have surprised the trustees, who were not consulted before the decision was made on Saturday. But nothing has been agreed yet and the move has attracted the attention of the Charity Commission, which has also received a report from Chelsea’s foundation.
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have contacted the charity seeking information and, in line with our guidance, the charity has also made a report to the commission. We cannot comment further at this time.”
The Charity Commission’s response will be a consideration for some trustees as they ponder how to move forward. It is understood some trustees could decide to step aside from the foundation, though no decisions have been made yet.
The transfer of stewardship has been met with skepticism in some quarters. The Labor MP Chris Bryant told the Guardian on Sunday that it was a “Russian ruse” and expressed fears it was an attempt by Abramovich to avoid sanctions. One source suggested Abramovich had been jolted into acting quickly when Bryant told parliament last Thursday that the Russian was identified by the Home Office in 2019 as having links to the Russian state as well as to “corrupt activity and practices”.
Chelsea have reportedly insisted the transfer of power is not an attempt to avoid sanctions but rather to save the club from potential “reputational and strategic damage”. Legal experts have also questioned whether transferring stewardship amounts to anything given Abramovich still owns Chelsea and, providing he is not sanctioned, can still fund the Stamford Bridge club.
Sources have said nothing has changed at Chelsea. Their charitable foundation is headed by Bruce Buck, the club’s chairman. The other trustees are Emma Hayes, the Chelsea Women’s manager; Piara Powar, the executive director of the anti-racism organization Fare; Paul Ramos, Chelsea’s director of finance; the sports lawyer John Devine; Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics; and Hugh Robertson, chairman of the British Olympic Association and a former MP and sports minister.
Football decisions – including transfers, contracts and the future of the manager, Thomas Tuchel – will be the responsibility of the director Marina Granovskaia and the technical and performance director, Petr Cech. They are already heavily influential in running the club, and in practical terms little will change for now on a day-to-day basis.
Abramovich’s move is likely to attract interest in Chelsea from potential bidders, although the club have said they are not for sale. It is unclear if a sale would be possible if Abramovich is sanctioned.
Chelsea have been approached for comment.