Abramovich ceding stewardship means little - Head of Sports Law

Burnley host Chelsea on Saturday, with the Blues owner Roman Abramovich’s future at Stamford Bridge clouded in mystery after handing over ‘stewardship’ of the club to its charitable foundation.

Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich

A statement on Saturday evening revealed that the Russian businessman had relinquished 'stewardship and care'of Chelsea, amid calls for the 55-year-old to be sanctioned or banned from owning the Blues due to links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last week ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

Abramovich has not come out in support of Putin's actions, nor condemned them, and many have been critical of the 'change' in ownership at Chelsea, including Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, who tweeted: "The Trustees didn't sign up to be used as a shield! They wanted to assist Chelsea's efforts in the community. Poor from Abramovich and whoever was advising him."

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And Stephen Taylor Heath, Head of Sports Law at JMW Solicitors, feels Abramovich ceding stewardship means little: “Journalists supporters and pundits have been analysing the Chelsea statement of Saturday trying to fathom what it actually means.

"If the government was considering sanctions against Abramovich they will be obtaining legal opinion on it’s true meaning to establish whether or not in fact it was merely a PR exercise.

“In a legal context stewardship means no more than the job of supervising or taking care of something, in other words the job of ‘caretaker’.

"If you were to give somebody the ‘stewardship’ of your home because you were going abroad you would be somewhat affronted if on your return the caretaker sought to claim ownership of your home.

“In applying the owners and directors test (OADT) the Football Association and Premier League have always been anxious to establish who is in actual control of a football club when presented with a separate legal entity as the proposed owners.

"The most recent example of this is in relation to the takeover of Newcastle United when the Premier League sought to establish whether the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) were in actual control.

“Should the government decree that Abramovich should not be in control of the club the Premier League would immediately have to analyse whether ownership of the club has in fact been transferred to the Trust.

“A shareholder or stakeholder may well appoint a nominee to the board of a company to look after their interests.

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"There is a possibility that Abramovich is in fact saying that the Trust is to act as his de facto nominee on the board.

“In this regard it would be prudent for the Trust to consider at this stage whether in fact it should even accept the concept of acting as stewards of the club on behalf of Abramovich on the basis that may in fact compromise their position.

“In the statement Abramovich says that he believes the Trust has the best interests of the club at heart as he does.

"The authenticity of that statement will be brought into sharp focus should the situation arise where the interest of the club may conflict with the interest of Abramovich.

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"What if Abramovich were to seek to call in his loans? What if the club were to seek to take steps to sever legal ownership?

“Clearly the club and the Trust itself will need to elaborate on Mr Abramovich‘s statement to clarify the legal situation.”