By Emmanuel Onwubiko
I must begin by admitting openly that I am a football enthusiast and a die- hard supporter of the best club in Europe- Chelsea F.C of England.
I am not just an empty mouthed supporter but I am such a supporter that for the past 18 years, I consistently invested at least £2,000 British Pounds (excluding tickets and hotels) in the purchases of souvenirs of Chelsea FC of London during my yearly pilgrimages to the Stamford Bridge home of the club that has only recently won the club World cup in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.
So, you see, I am a very nice follower of soccer!
Having said the above and disclosed these preliminary but necessary facts, it pains me gravely therefore that the needless war of choice against Ukraine launched by the Russian dictator Mr. Vladimir Putin is now being used as an excuse to kill one of the best clubs in the World- only because Roman Abramovich, a Russian citizen by origin and Jewish citizen of Israel is the owner. It is now being actively assumed that football and politics are intertwined. But this is only because Europe is at the receiving end of the pummelling by Russia.
There has been actions being suggested in the political quarters within Europe to suggest that Mr. Roman Abramovich should lose ownership of Chelsea FC because these haters of sports say he is one of the so called Billionaires who are classified as ‘Russian Oligarchs’ with close ties to the Russian leader. When has friendship become the evidence to nail someone to a crime committed openly by another of his/her friend? Should an innocent person be punished because he or she is an associate of a person who took the wrongest decision in politics to invade his neighbour even when the friends of such a dictator have nothing to do with such an outrageous crime?
They (Europeans) therefore think sports and football should not be immune from the political consequences of the ill- timed and bad decision by president Vladimir Putin to go to war against Ukraine. Bad and unjust as the war on Ukraine is, it is even unjustifiable to punish an innocent person only because he is suspected to be a friend of the decision taker. It is said that it is better to let one thousand criminals to escape than to punish an innocent person for a crime he/she knows next to nothing about. Where then is the justification for attempting or blackmailing Roman Abramovich to now sell off his prized asset which is ranked as the best football entity in Europe only because he is Russian and is so rich and is suspected to know President Vladimir Putin. This is just a medieval type of thinking by people of European enlightenment. The British for instance brought to Nigeria the common laws which Nigeria still observes as the official legal system and code. Why is Britain unwittingly now abusing the inherent principle of justice and fairness?
I ask then, why did sports not subsumed or consumed by politics when Britain and USA wrongly and criminally invaded Iraq on the false premise that Sadam Hussein was amassing weapons of mass destructions? This excuse turn out to be a ruse. I repeat, I’m against President Putin’s flagrant aggression against Ukrainians. But inflicting unjust punishment on an innocent man and his football asset in Britain is as unfortunate and evil as the despicable acts of treacherous invasion of Ukraine by President Putin of Russia.
It is because the owner of Chelsea fc who rescued Chelsea fc from the wilderness of Mon performance when he bought the club and had since splashed over$2 billion to upgrade it is neither a European or an American citizen?
Why is the sport of Soccer the Mother of modern sports selectively been made to suffer the consequences of the bad tempered decision of Putin even when there is no empirical evidence that Roman Abramovich who also has Portuguese citizenship did support Putin? Why were football or basketball clubs owned by British or Americans not sold when both nations wrongly invaded Iraq?
This is why I totally buy the view of the Russia football captain Artem Dzyuba who has spoken out thus: “I am against any war. War is a frightful thing. But I am also against human aggression and hatred, which is gaining some sort of devastating scale every day. “I am not afraid that I am Russian. I’m proud to be Russian. And I don’t understand why athletes have to suffer now. I am against double standards. “Why has everyone shouted about sports staying outside of politics but, at the first opportunity, when it comes to Russia, this principle is completely forgotten?” This is a very decent interrogatory which the European Union should respond to.
Following the orchestrated gale of blackmail, Roman Abramovich has now put Chelsea up for sale and has set his asking price at £4 billion.
The 55-year-old, who has owned Chelsea since 2003, distanced himself from the club over the weekend by handing over his ‘stewardship and care’ to the trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation.
The UK Government has faced calls to freeze Abramovich’s assets, as well as anyone who allegedly has ties with Vladimir Putin, as part of its sanctions against Russia.
Abramovich, who denies any link with Russia’s president, has rejected multiple offers to sell Chelsea in the past.
But according to The Telegraph, Abramovich is now actively looking to sell the club and is demanding a £4bn fee.
However, the report claims that Abramovich, who bought Chelsea for £140 million nearly 19 years ago, is expected to receive offers in the region of £2bn.
On Tuesday evening, Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss claimed that he, along with three others, has received a proposal to buy Chelsea from Abramovich.
‘Abramovich is one of Putin’s closest advisers and friends. Like all other oligarchs, he is also in a state of panic,’ the 85-year-old, who is worth an estimated $5.8bn, told Swiss newspaper Blick.
‘Abramovich is trying to sell all his properties in England. He also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly. I and three other people received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich.’
Asked if he will take up Abramovich on his offer, Wyss replied: ‘I have to wait four or five days now. Abramovich is currently asking far too much.
‘You know Chelsea owe him £2billion? But Chelsea has no money, which means that whoever buys Chelsea has to compensate Abramovich.
‘As of today, we don’t know the exact selling price.
‘I can well imagine starting at Chelsea with partners, but I have to examine the general conditions first. But what I can say for sure is that I’m definitely not doing something like this alone. If I buy Chelsea, then it would be with a consortium consisting of six or seven investors.’
According to Chelsea’s latest financial accounts, Abramovich is owed £1.5bn in loans through the club’s parent company Fordstam Limited, which he owns.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who is worth around £12.3bn, has also shown an interest in buying Chelsea in the past but has been put off by Abramovich’s asking price.
‘There was some early exchange [with Chelsea] but we were a significant way apart on valuations,’ Ratcliffe’s brother, Bob, said in 2019.
‘The issue with Chelsea is its stadium. We are all getting older and it is a decade of your life to resolve that.’
Meanwhile, Labour MP Chris Bryant said in the House of Commons on Tuesday that Abramovich is ‘terrified of being sanctioned’ and said the Russian-born billionaire is selling his property. This man is a legislative bully and rascal who should be told to stop his subtle blackmail.
‘Alisher Usmanov has already been sanctioned by the EU but not yet by the UK, but I suspect he’ll be pretty soon on a UK list and Everton should certainly be cutting ties with him already,’ Bryant said.
‘Roman Abramovich, well, I think he’s terrified of being sanctioned, which is why he’s already going to sell his home tomorrow, and sell another flat as well.
‘My anxiety is that we’re taking too long about these things.’
Earlier, the Billionaire said:
I would like to address the speculation in media over the past few days in relation to my ownership of Chelsea FC. As I have stated before, I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. In the current situation, I have therefore taken the decision to sell the Club, as I believe this is in the best interest of the Club, the fans, the employees, as well as the Club’s sponsors and partners.
The sale of the Club will not be fast-tracked but will follow due process. I will not be asking for any loans to be repaid. This has never been about business nor money for me, but about pure passion for the game and Club. Moreover, I have instructed my team to set up a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated. The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery.
Please know that this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make, and it pains me to part with the Club in this manner. However, I do believe this is in the best interest of the Club.
I hope that I will be able to visit Stamford Bridge one last time to say goodbye to all of you in person. It has been a privilege of a lifetime to be part of Chelsea FC and I am proud of all our joint achievements. Chelsea Football Club and its supporters will always be in my heart.
Tariya Tandon thinks differently when he wrote that though many believe that sport is apolitical and neutral, sport is intricately enmeshed within the larger socio-political context in which it operates. This is the thinking of much of Europe now only because the victims of the aggression are Europeans- Ukrainians.
Specifically, a webinar held on 7 May 2021, organised by the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Diplomacy Division as part of World Learning’s International Sports Programming Initiative, explored the ways sport and politics are intricately intertwined. Featuring panellists from around the world, it addressed how sport operates within a larger social context, and is thus inherently political.
Perspectives from around the world Haresh Deol, a journalist from Malaysia, opened the panel. He highlighted how many people tend to look at sports in a narrow way, focusing only on elite athletes. However, he noted that “sports is mass first – mass participation is needed to build elite athletes.”
Malaysian politicians have used the mass appeal of sports to garner votes, Deol noted. They often promise new stadiums and other sports infrastructure while campaigning. Some ministers are the patrons or presidents of football associations. In Malaysia, sport is therefore closely linked to formal politics.
Giving a South Asian perspective, Dr. Muqtedar Khan, a professor from the University of Delaware, discussed how cricket has increasingly become a political sport. In a reversal of power which has moved away from the West, the sport has become dominated by a postcolonial country, India.In order to become rich in cricket, you have to support or play with India.
India has weaponised cricket against its rival, Pakistan, in order to isolate the country in the sport. India refuses to play Pakistan, has not engaged in any bilateral series with Pakistan for the last eight years, and has even banned Pakistani players from the Indian Premier League. Although such matches generate a lot of money, capitalist and profit-driven notions are side-lined in favour of political gains. India has often asked Pakistan to change its foreign and security policies in order to resume cricket matches between the countries, and is using cricket to influence political change in Pakistan.
The next speaker was Dr. Lindsay Krasnoff, a consultant, writer and historian who has worked extensively on the politics of sport in France. She noted how the French sport system, which aims to encourage mass participation in sport, was built after the 1960 Olympics. These were the first modern Olympics to be televised, which had a far-reaching impact.
French Olympians did not fare as well as they had hoped. The ensuing national humiliation triggered a government investigation into the loss. This ultimately led to the creation of a nationwide elite athlete detection system, predominantly in football, which later expanded to other sports. Due to the French government’s intervention, sport has grown from the grassroots to the elite level in the country, and it has become one of the world’s most successful sporting nations.
The final panelist was Dr. Loic Tregoures, a political science professor at the Catholic University of Lille in France, whose research focuses on sport politics and identity formation in the former Yugoslavia. His research traces the history of sport, especially football, and how it was used by the Yugoslav communist regime and later became a way to cement ethnic identities and develop separatist nationalist movements.
The communist regime hoped to form a Yugoslavian civic identity through sport, and focused policy on collective sports that emphasised the values of unity and togetherness. The focus was not winning medals or excelling in sport but using sport to form a cohesive identity. Tregoures noted, however, that when the war started in Yugoslavia, the sports field became another frontier where ethnic friction was amplified.
Personal is political: Panellists also shared personal stories from their own lives to show how sports is political, even at a grassroots level: personal experiences with sport are often shaped by the larger socio-political contexts.
Khan narrated a story of how, as a child, a friendly cricket match between his team and a neighbouring team devolved into a riot when spectators in the predominantly Hindu neighbourhood noted that the rival team, which was defeating their home team (comprised of Hindus), was made up entirely of Muslims. Spectators began to attack the Muslim team, and communal tensions in the larger society brewed over into a friendly match. Ultimately, the police were summoned to placate the crowd and ensure the players’ safety.
Deol shared how growing up in Kuala Lampur in the 1980s, all the players on his football team would drink water from the same pail, regardless of ethnic or religious differences. However, things are different now, and some Malaysians go as far as to claim that difference races should participate in different sports. This is because the race-based politics that dominates all levels of government has now trickled into sports.
Krasnoff and Tregoures relayed stories from their attendance and observations of mega-sport events. Krasnoff said the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France showed the progress made in accepting and celebrating women’s athleticism in French society. While women’s football was looked down on in the 1960s, it has taken off since the 2010s. The success of the women’s national team has also affected the number of women and girls that now play the sport.
Tregoures spoke of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Athletes from countries of the former Yugoslavia were socialising with each other, and they were criticised in their home countries for acquainting themselves with supposed ‘traitors’. He emphasised how the wider socio-political situation meant that athletes could not even casually fraternise without repercussions.
Sport is political: The panellists’ research and stories illustrated how sports, like any other facet of life, is inherently political. To assume otherwise would be naïve or, as Tregoures noted, even hypocritical. As Khan said: “Politics is as much a part of sports as it is a part of life.” Instead of separating the two, we should focus on harnessing the political power of sport for the greater good.
Looking at sport through a political lens means looking at who has access to sport and who does not. While sport is often regarded as an equaliser, it can only work this way if a conscious effort is made to ensure that all have equal access. Hence, understanding the politics of sport is essential to informing policy on sport access.
Sport can also be used to bring about peace in society. As Deol noted, sport has been the best solution to resolve racial tensions in Malaysia. Khan reiterated this, suggesting that more friendly matches between rival nations and groups can help humanise the so-called ‘enemy’. He emphasised that instead of focusing only on elite athletes, sport at a grassroots level should be mobilised to become a vehicle for peace. Panellists emphasised, however, that in order for sport to achieve peace, it must be designed in a way to do so.
But from MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) reported that over the years FIFA has been opposed to players, teams and fans engaging in protests or sloganeering but it seems global soccer’s governing body is perhaps now prepared to tolerate a blurring of the line it once drew between politics and sport.
Norway’s national team wore t-shirts declaring “Human rights – on and off the pitch” as they lined up before their World Cup qualifier against Gibraltar and the following day, Germany made a similar protest before their qualifier against Iceland in Duisburg.
In both cases, the players made it clear that the protests were aimed at Qatar. The Gulf state is hosting the 2022 World Cup finals and has faced allegations, which it has denied, of poor treatment and a lack of rights for migrant labourers.
Those gestures, in the recent past, would have almost certainly resulted in disciplinary procedures and likely fines from FIFA, but world soccer’s governing body said no action would be taken.
Over the years FIFA has been opposed to political protests or sloganeering during games or in stadiums.
The regulations restricting the displaying of slogans on shirts or undergarments are contained in Law 4 of the Laws of the Game but broader regulations on political gestures are contained within the Disciplinary and Ethics codes.
The rules, however, are less clear about garments worn immediately prior to a game, and FIFA and European governing body UEFA’s stance in general has evolved over time.
Former Liverpool forward Robbie Fowler was fined by UEFA in 1997, for displaying a t-shirt supporting sacked local dockers after scoring in a Cup Winners’ Cup match.
In 2013, Croatian defender Josip Simunic was banned for 10 matches and missed the following year’s World Cup after shouting slogans with fans at the end of a game.
“The disciplinary committee took note that the player, together with the crowd, shouted a Croatian salute that was used during World War II by the fascist ‘Ustase’ movement,” FIFA said.
In July 2014, FIFA fined the Argentine FA 30,000 CHF ($31,887) after players stood behind a banner bearing the slogan “Las Malvinas son Argentinas” (“The Falklands are Argentine”) on the pitch before a Buenos Aires friendly win against Slovenia the previous month.
Responding to a number of cases of players raising their shirts to reveal slogans, often harmless messages such as birthday wishes, FIFA’s law-making body IFAB adopted a blanket ban.
“To determine what is right and wrong between different countries and cultures is very complicated, so it’s easier to say it’s got no place in the game,” said IFAB board member Jonathan Ford of the Welsh FA.
The issue returned though in 2016 when FIFA fined England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, for their use of the poppy to commemorate Armistice day, deeming it to be a political symbol.
The Football Association of Ireland was also fined for displaying a “political symbol” for a badge commemorating the 100th anniversary of an uprising against British rule.
Following criticism of the poppy decision, FIFA altered the wording of its laws on player garments to allow the poppy, or similar “permitted slogans, statements or images” if opposing teams and the competition organiser agreed in advance.
Nonetheless, while the wording of FIFA’s regulations remain open to subjective interpretation, as is the concept of what is political, slogans have tended to be restricted to official campaigns, such as UEFA’s ‘Respect’, anti-discrimination campaign.
FIFA fined and reprimanded Qatar’s football federation in 2017 after their players warmed up for the game wearing t-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.
FIFA’s stance shifted further last year when in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed in police custody in the United States, some players in Germany’s Bundesliga displayed slogans supporting the protest movement.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the players deserve “applause and not a punishment”.
Players in England’s Premier League have ‘taken the knee’ in support of the movement, before games, for the past year and last season wore Black Lives Matter logos on their sleeves — a gesture supported by the league and football authorities.
FIFA took a similar line this week when responding to the Norway protests over Qatar.
“FIFA believes in the freedom of speech, and in the power of football as a force for good,” it said in a statement.
“No disciplinary proceedings in relation to this matter will be opened by FIFA.”
However, FIFA has just banned Russian football teams only because President Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine. Did the FA of Russia asked their opinion before Russian military was commanded to invade Ukraine? No is the answer. So why the double standards now?
These unwarranted mass hysteria targeting Roman Abramovich who has done so much for football is condemnable, detestable, despicable and outrageous.
It was for Roman Abramovich’s vision and substantial investment into Chelsea FC that made me and thousands of others to start investing our legitimate incomes in support of this team that continues to provide entertainment value of the highest essence to millions of fans Worldwide.
EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was federal commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.