A sports branding expert has told Sky Sports News that Chelsea could become a toxic brand for would-be investors should the Russian conflict in Ukraine continue for some time.
Ben Peppi, head of sports services at JMW Solicitors, says existing and future sponsors might be put off from investing in the club, so long as Roman Abramovich remains as owner, with the threat of possible sanctions from the UK Government.
Labour MP Chris Bryant has used parliamentary privilege to urge the government to seize some of Abramovich’s UK assets, saying a leaked Home Office document identified him as a person of interest.
A spokesperson for the Russian billionaire has denied Abramovich has any current involvement in Russian politics, or with the president Vladimir Putin.
When asked if Chelsea could potentially become a toxic brand in its own right, by association, Peppi said: “Absolutely. And we’ve already seen what’s happened to sporting properties that have associations with Russia.
“UEFA have pulled the Champions League final from St Petersburg, there is talk that Gazprom is to be dropped as a UEFA sponsor, Manchester United – probably the biggest global football brand in the world – have decided to terminate their relationship with Aeroflot.
“So no doubt there will be new partners, new sponsors who look at Chelsea and go ‘if the ownership is still in the hands of Mr Abramovich, we don’t want a part of it’.
“It doesn’t send the right message out morally, ethically, socially.
“But the flip side to that is the Saudi ownership of Newcastle, the ownership of Manchester City – people forget quickly.
“If it’s a long drawn out conflict, and a drawn out dispute between East and West, I absolutely think it will impact Chelsea for sure.”
Q&A: Russia set to be suspended – what happens next?
How swift can we expect a decision?
Sky Sports News’ chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol:
“Later today [Monday] I think it will be announced that Russia have been banned from international football. FIFA are at the moment in advanced talks over suspending the Russia national team until further notice.
“FIFA are working closely with UEFA on this. We had the situation on Sunday when the Bureau of the FIFA Council met when they stopped just short of banning Russia.
“They said that Russia wouldn’t be able to play any home games, they wouldn’t be able to call themselves Russia and they would have to call themselves the Football Union of Russia and there would be no anthem or flags.
“FIFA also said on Sunday that further measures may well follow. These further measures are going to follow very quickly.”
Are other organisations now putting pressure on FIFA and UEFA to act?
“The FIFA Bureau is made up of the president Gianni Infantino and also the six presidents of the six football confederations. It was a global decision.
“The decision wasn’t just taken by Infantino but it was by the president of CONMEBOL for instance and that of UEFA and the Asian football confederation. They decided on Sunday to stop just short of suspending Russia and a lot of people thought they would suspend them.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of that decision and we’ve also had examples where individual football associations have come out and said, ‘it doesn’t matter what the Bureau have decided, we are just not going to play against Russia.’
“We saw Poland, who have been the most vociferous and have been standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine saying, ‘no matter what happens, while Russia is invading Ukraine and people are dying in Ukraine and fleeing the country, we’ll not play against Russia.
“Even if we’re going to lose out on a place in the World Cup finals. It looks like if this decision is made today then Poland would get into the next round of the play-offs.
“At the moment, they’re supposed to be playing Russia and the winner of that game would face the Czech Republic or Sweden for a place at the Qatar World Cup.
“It would mean they would go straight into the final play-off game.”
Has the decision surprised you in any way?
“It’s perhaps surprising that it’s happened so quickly. But the information we had on Sunday was that this wasn’t a final decision.
“It was made very clear to us that depending on what happens in Ukraine that Russia may be suspended. I didn’t expect it to happen within 24 hours but it was made very clear to us that this decision is not a fait accompli. It may well change depending on what happens in Ukraine.
“There was plenty of criticism not to ban Russia straightaway but it looks like people at FIFA, UEFA and all the confederations are listening to the football world and the individual football associations who are coming out and saying they’re not going to play Russia and they’ve decided to act quickly.”
Russia are due to play in the women’s European Championship. Will UEFA act in the same way?
“Yes, I expect they will. I’m being told that this is a decision that is going to be taken by all of the confederations.
“FIFA are talking and working very closely with UEFA and what is significant is that there is going to be a UEFA Executive Committee meeting at 5pm on Monday.
“There will be more developments on that as well. I think at that meeting it will become clear that Russia have been banned from international football. We may get an update on UEFA’s attempts to extricate themselves from a sponsorship deal with Gazprom – the state-owned Russian energy company.
“It’s complicated and it’s something UEFA’s lawyers are looking at to try to find a way of getting themselves out of this sponsorship agreement because Gazprom is one of if not their biggest sponsor, worth around £30m a year.”
What happens if Russia were then to retreat from Ukraine? Would the national team be immediately re-instated in the World Cup play-offs? Is this why FIFA and UEFA have held back for the moment?
“This could change again and I don’t think we can sit here and say 100 per cent that Russia will not play Poland. It all depends on what happens in Ukraine.
“It should be said that there’s an awful lot more important things happening in the world at the moment. What is happening in Ukraine is much more important than World Cup play-offs, and that is what strikes me when speaking to people at the Polish FA.
“Football doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. They’re saying they don’t care about the World Cup finals. Football is totally insignificant. What is important is what Russia are doing in Ukraine.
“They are saying they will try to do whatever they can to try and stop that. Don’t even ask us questions about the World Cup finals and play-offs. The bottom line is they will not be playing against Russia.”