Chelsea wants Middlesbrough FA Cup quarter final behind closed-doors over ticket sales sanction ban
Chelsea wants its Middlesbrough FA Cup clash played behind closed doors after the government blocked the clubs from selling tickets due to owner Roman Abramovich's sanction.
The side is lobbying to play Middlesbrough with no spectators present at Saturday’s quarter-final.
But Boro has labelled Chelsea's request "bizarre" and "without any merit whatsoever" and vowed to resist any efforts to block fans from the match.
Russian-Israeli billionaire Abramovich must not profit in the UK under the government sanctions, and Chelsea are blocked from selling any more tickets under the terms of their new licence.
And after talks with the government failed to yield a softening on that ticket stance, the Blues have now questioned the FA Cup quarter-final’s "sporting integrity" should Chelsea fans be barred from attending the Riverside clash.
“We are disappointed to announce we will not be able to sell tickets for Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough,” read a Chelsea statement.
“Despite engaging in extensive discussions with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI), the deadline to purchase away tickets has passed without appropriate amendments being made to the Government licence which would allow a full allocation of Chelsea supporters to attend.
“Executives at Middlesbrough had been kind enough to extend their deadline for ticket sales and stadium allocation from 7.30pm last night until 9.30am this morning.
“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.
Middlesbrough issued a statement warning it would be lobbying against Chelsea's request.
The statement read: "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.
"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 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 reason for the game being played behind closed doors is ironic in the extreme.
"We currently await formal notification from the FA of the next steps but rest assured MFC will resist Chelsea's actions in the strongest terms."
“We will continue to discuss the issue of ticket sales with OFSI as there are a number of fixtures still to be played this season and we hope to reach a resolution.”
It comes as Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel questioned Boris Johnson’s “priorities” after the prime minister urged the club's fans to stop chanting for Abramovich.
The club's owner has been sanctioned by the government after Downing Street claimed to have proven the 55-year-old’s links to Vladimir Putin.
The billionaire was among a string of oligarchs hit by UK Government sanctions.
He put Chelsea up for sale on March 2 just days before he was named in the sanctions list, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, some Blues fans continued to chant his name at Chelsea fixtures after he was officially sanctioned.
The chanting, and sides supporting Abramovich with signs bearing slogans including 'Roman Empire', prompted criticism of Chelsea fans in recent days.
Chelsea's clash with Saudi majority-owned Newcastle over the weekend has reignited a long-running and widespread debate about Premier League football ownership.
Saudi Arabia executed 81 people in its largest ever mass execution in one day on Saturday, on the day before the sides played.
Abramovich had become a broadly popular figure among many Chelsea fans, as he underwrote Chelsea's ballooning debt and bankrolled the purchase of a surfeit of high profile players.
The future of the club is uncertain following the sanction, as the measure not only blocks the sale of the club, and the sale of any new tickets, but Chelsea FC merchandise too.
A string of billionaire buyers, including, most recently, the luxury property mogul David Candy, had been lining up to put in bids to buy the club in recent weeks.