The Premier League board has disqualified Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich as a director at the English top-flight soccer club after he was sanctioned by the British government over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the league said in a statement on Saturday.
Abramovich, who had been under scrutiny after Russia’s invasion, said last week that he was selling the London club. But the sale is now on hold, with Chelsea operating under a special government licence.
“The Board’s decision does not impact on the club’s ability to train and play its fixtures, as set out under the terms of a licence issued by the Government which expires on 31 May 2022,” the league said.
Chelsea did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
The government welcomed the move and said it was not opposed to the sale of the club. It added that it had amended the special licence so that the club could spend £900 000 to stage each of its matches.
“We welcome the Premier League’s action to disqualify Roman Abramovich as a Director of the football club. The Government has made clear that we need to hold to account those who have enabled the Putin regime,” a spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.
“We are open to a sale of the club and would consider an application for a licence to allow that to happen,” he added.
The team can continue playing games and pay players and staff but cannot transfer players in or out, as the government tries to prevent Abramovich from benefiting in any way from such moves.
Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 for a reported 140 million pounds ($182.5 million) and his investment resulted in the most successful era in their history, with the club winning five Premier League titles, five FA Cups and the Champions League twice.
Chelsea’s main shirt sponsor, mobile network Three, has suspended ties, while another sponsor, Trivago, said it would stick with the club.
Russia says its actions in Ukraine are a “special military operation” designed not to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
The entry on the British sanctions list described Abramovich as “a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch” who enjoyed “a close relationship for decades” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Abramovich has denied having such ties.
Chelsea, who are third in the league with 56 points from 27 matches, host Newcastle United on Sunday.