LONDON — Chelsea has asked for Saturday's FA Cup quarterfinal game at Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors for "sporting integrity" because they are unable to sell tickets due to restrictions imposed by a British government licence.
Chelsea, who have made the request to the FA board, are dealing with government restrictions on their operations after sanctions were imposed on their Russian owner Roman Abramovich.
Middlesbrough ticket update.— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 15, 2022
Middlesbrough chairman, Steve Gibson, responds to Chelsea’s request to play their FA Cup tie behind closed doors. pic.twitter.com/ZOP7x6jA1H— GOAL (@goal) March 15, 2022
The London club 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 Premier League club said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Chelsea FC recognizes 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 FA said the matter would be discussed at the Professional Game Board meeting on Wednesday.
Middlesbrough said they found the the request "bizarre and without any merit whatsoever.
— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) March 15, 2022
"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."
Chelsea Supporters' Trust has asked the club to withdraw the request and urged the government to amend the licence and allow supporters to obtain tickets.
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.
"(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.
They are third in the Premier League with 59 points from 28 games, 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru and Alistair Smout in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)