Middlesbrough Football Club has called Chelsea’s request to play the quarter-final tie behind closed doors as “bizarre and without merit whatsoever”.
Chelsea asked for the tie at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium on 19 March to be played behind closed doors after government sanctions against Roman Abramovich meant it is unable to sell new tickets to home and away matches.
The Stamford Bridge club said it should be played behind closed doors “for matters of sporting integrity”, a request Middlesbrough described as “ironic in the extreme”.
“We are aware of Chelsea’s request to have Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup sixth-round tie played behind closed doors and find their suggestion both bizarre and without any merit whatsoever,” Middlesbrough said.
“All concerned are well aware of the reasons Chelsea have been sanctioned and that this has nothing to do with Middlesbrough Football Club.
“To suggest as a result that MFC and our fans should be penalised is not only grossly unfair but without any foundation.
“Given the reasons for these sanctions, for Chelsea to seek to invoke sporting ‘integrity’ as a reason for the game being played behind closed doors is ironic in the extreme.”
Chelsea believe request is ‘fairest’ way to proceed
In a statement, Chelsea said: “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.
“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, but we believe this is the fairest way of proceeding in the current circumstances.”
The club added that it had been in discussion with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation about ticket sales for this weekend’s match but had been unable to find a breakthrough.
Chelsea are allowed to continue operating through a special licence granted by the government, which allows existing ticket holders to attend matches, but new sales, including home and away matchday tickets, are not allowed.
The Football Association said it was “aware of Chelsea FC’s request” and that it will be discussed at the Professional Game Board meeting on Wednesday.
Licence could be amended, says sports minister
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston gave evidence to the Department of Media, Culture and Sport select committee on Tuesday and said the government may amend its licence to allow Chelsea to sell tickets.
“The measures we have taken and the licence we have given to Chelsea is to precisely stop [the club going out of business],” he said.
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“It is to allow Chelsea still to play, for staff to still be paid, to honour ticket sales already, and we are discussions with Chelsea and the fans to see if we can allow further ticket sales because we want the sanctions to hit those we intend to hit and not others.
“We are looking at options. But there will be consequences of sanctions. Roman Abramovich has links to Vladimir Putin, and let’s not forget this is because of the invasion of a sovereign nation where people are dying.
“But we want to ensure the sanctions hit those we intend to hit and there is minimal impact elsewhere.
“But there will be inconvenience as a result. We would welcome the sale [of the club] and we would change the licence to enable that sale, and that would be important for Chelsea.”
The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust has asked the club to “withdraw the request for the Middlesbrough game to be played behind closed doors”.
“The CST has made it clear to the government and the sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, that supporters must be able to watch their team,” it said.
“We strongly urge the government to amend the licence and allow supporters to obtain tickets. Playing behind closed doors does not benefit any supporters.”
Questions over travel for Champions League tie
Chelsea are due to play Lille in France on Wednesday in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie but there are questions about how they will travel to the game.
The government licence limits the club to spending £20,000 per away match on travel, a figure that Chelsea are looking to increase.
The average Premier League clubs spend on away matches comes to £30,000 and away fixtures in European competition add an extra premium.
Manager Thomas Tuchel said it wasn’t about travelling in style, but how professional sport works.
“It isn’t about luxury and bling-bling,” he said. “This is just a professional level of sports, where we play with two days between matches with our opponent having four days between matches and we arrive with the possibilities of injuries.
“For that, it is better to arrive with a plane rather than a bus. From my understanding, we have a framework to go and play in Lille with absolutely no excuses.”
Before the sanctions were imposed on Mr Abramovich, the billionaire had put the club up for sale for £3bn.
While it is unclear if he will be able to sell Chelsea, a number of suitors have expressed interest in buying the club, including the owner of the Houston Rockets Tilman Fertitta and property developer Nick Candy.
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