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Chelsea withdraw request to play Middlesbrough behind closed doors

FILE - A security officer patrols at Stamford Bridge, the stadium for Chelsea Football Club, after Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said he would sell the club, 19 years after buying it, amid growing pressure for oligarchs to be hit by sanctions after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in London. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

FILE - A security officer patrols at Stamford Bridge, the stadium for Chelsea Football Club, after Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said he would sell the club, 19 years after buying it, amid growing pressure for oligarchs to be hit by sanctions after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in London. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

Published Mar 15, 2022

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London — Chelsea have removed their request for their FA Cup quarter-final game at Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors, the FA said on Tuesday.

Chelsea had made the request to the FA board for reasons of "sporting integrity" because they are unable to sell tickets due to restrictions imposed by a British government licence.

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Chelsea are dealing with government restrictions on their operations after sanctions were imposed on their Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

"The FA remains in ongoing discussions with Chelsea, the Premier League and the Government to find a solution that would enable both Chelsea fans to attend games and away fans to attend Stamford Bridge, whilst ensuring sanctions are respected," the governing body said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chelsea said they were in "extensive discussions" with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation but could not make amendments to the licence in time to sell tickets to Chelsea fans for Saturday's game at the Riverside Stadium.

"It is important for the competition that the match against Middlesbrough goes ahead, however it is with extreme reluctance that we are asking the FA board to direct that the game be played behind closed doors for matters of sporting integrity," the club said.

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"Chelsea FC recognises that such an outcome would have a huge impact on Middlesbrough and its supporters, as well as our own fans who have already bought the limited number of tickets that were sold before the licence was imposed.

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"But we believe this is the fairest way of proceeding in the current circumstances."

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Middlesbrough said they found the request "bizarre and without any merit whatsoever.

"All concerned are well aware of the reasons Chelsea have been sanctioned and that this has nothing to do with Middlesbrough," it said in a statement.

"To suggest as result that Middlesbrough and our fans should be penalised is not only grossly unfair but without any foundation."

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Chelsea Supporters' Trust had asked the club to withdraw the request and urged the government to amend the licence and allow supporters to obtain tickets.

Request criticised

The government froze Abramovich's assets after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying he had close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin over decades. Abramovich has denied having such ties.

The government has said it has been meeting daily with the club and football authorities to discuss further amendments to the licence to ensure more away fans can attend games.

However, the request for a closed-doors game has been met with criticism.

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"(Chelsea) ... do not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation they are in, being owned by an entity that has been sanctioned because of links to a person (Putin) responsible for appalling acts in Ukraine," a senior UK government source said.

"We are not opposed to Chelsea having fans in the long run, but we will not allow money from ticket sales to flow to a sanctioned entity.

"Chelsea should spend less time worrying about having a few thousand fans at one game, and focus on moving their club into the hands of someone who isn't linked to a warmonger."

European champions Chelsea lost the League Cup final to Liverpool on penalties last month but are in the last 16 of the Champions League, where they visit Lille on Wednesday leading 2-0 from the first leg. Read full story

They are third in the Premier League with 59 points from 28 games, 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.

Reuters

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