Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich said Saturday he was handing over the “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to the trustees of its charitable foundation.
The move comes with Russia under intense scrutiny following its invasion of Ukraine this week.
Billionaire Abramovich, who took over at Stamford Bridge in 2003, said in a statement: “During my nearly 20-year ownership of Chelsea FC, I have always viewed my role as a custodian of the club, whose job it is ensuring that we are as successful as we can be today, as well as build for the future, while also playing a positive role in our communities.
“I have always taken decisions with the club’s best interest at heart. I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC.
“I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the club, players, staff, and fans.”
It is understood Abramovich took the decision in order to protect Chelsea from reputational damage as war rages in Ukraine.
The Telegraph reported Abramovich will remain the owner of the club and is not looking to sell the European champions.
Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck is also chair of the club’s foundation.
Blues manager Thomas Tuchel admitted on Friday that uncertainty over Abramovich’s future as owner was weighing on his club ahead of Sunday’s League Cup final against Liverpool.
“We should not pretend this is not an issue,” he said. “The situation in general for me and for my staff, the players, is horrible.
“Nobody expected this. It’s pretty unreal, like I said it’s clouding our minds, it’s clouding our excitement towards the final.”
Earlier in the week, using parliamentary privilege, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran named Abramovich as one of 35 “key enablers” to Russian leader Vladimir Putin who should be sanctioned.
The UK government on Friday ordered all assets of Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov frozen over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Treasury issued financial sanctions notices against the two men, adding them to a list of Russian oligarchs who have already had their property and bank accounts in the UK frozen.
Abramovich is not on the list.
Britain is a favourite destination for oligarchs and their families and has been criticised for not doing enough to prevent the flow of their money into the country.
Abramovich has supplied Chelsea with £1.5 billion ($2 billion) worth of funding over the past 19 years.
Chelsea have enjoyed a period of unprecedented success as a result, winning five Premier League titles and two Champions League crowns among a vast haul of silverware since he took over the club.
“We note Mr Abramovich’s statement and are seeking urgent clarification on what this statement means for the running of Chelsea FC,” the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (CST) said in a statement.
“The CST board are ready to work with the trustees of The Chelsea Foundation in order to ensure the long-term interests of the club and supporters.
“We stand with the people of Ukraine.”
Portugal granted citizenship to the 55-year-old in December and he has also been granted Israeli citizenship.
Abramovich is worth nearly $14 billion according to Forbes. He ranked 142nd on the magazine’s 2021 list of the globe’s billionaires.