The Blue Flag Must Keep Flying High – But We Need to Address the Red Flags, Too

The Blue Flag Must Keep Flying High – But We Need to Address the Red Flags, Too

The last seven days has shown us football and politics always mix. We have no choice but to acknowledge the relationship between our football clubs and the wider world.

March 14th 2022

Being a Chelsea fan right now feels weird. There’s no other way to put it. By no means am I the voice for all Chelsea fans, but I’m sure there’s plenty of us who are feeling how I’ve felt over the past week.

Shocked at how fast this situation has escalated. Uncertain about what this could mean for everyone associated with the club. Uneasy about the response from some sets of the fanbase and their partisan support of Roman Abramovich.

In just a few weeks, we’ve gone from being newly-crowned World Champions to a club that’s facing potential extinction as a result of government sanctions against our owner. From standing at the top of the mountain with triumphalism to glancing over the edge and feeling nervous about how far we could fall.

And while the speed at which we’ve been hit is a shock for everyone, the reality is that for far too long we – as Chelsea fans – kept the Blue flag flying high while ignoring the red flags that were always present regarding our ownership.

“He’s delivered famous victories in the Premier League and Champions League, but he’s also always had question marks over his name that have threatened to bring the football club into disrepute.”

If we take a few steps back, this shouldn’t have been a huge shock. It’s no secret that Abramovich’s reported relationship with Vladimir Putin has always been problematic. It’s also no secret that his donations to organisations supporting Israeli settlements in Palestine present far more questions around the oligarch’s political motivations.

The day he left Chelsea was always going to be momentous due to the scale of achievement his reign at the club has overseen – but his departure has become even more contentious because so many of us failed to engage with the baggage Abramovich always brought with him.

The fall of the ‘Roman Empire’ has sparked an uncomfortable atmosphere around Stamford Bridge. While those in Ukraine are thinking about their livelihoods, some Chelsea fans are thinking more about the future of their club. It’s been unsettling to watch.

Praise for Abramovich’s 19-year spell as Chelsea’s owner is understandable. He’s revolutionised the club, invested in the team, and been an active owner that has had a laser-focus on delivering on-pitch success.

But as with so many things in life, black and white can coexist. He’s delivered famous victories in the Premier League and Champions League, but he’s also always had question marks over his name that have threatened to bring the football club into disrepute. We finally saw this come to a head last week, with the UK government accusing him of “destablising Ukraine” via his association with Putin.

Moments like this bring around important questions for football. As so many Chelsea fans fail to acknowledge Abramovich’s difficult past, and as Newcastle United fans brought Saudi Arabia flags to Stamford Bridge a day after the state executed 81 men in 24 hours, does football fandom overrule our moral compass far too often?

It’s an internal battle I’ve compartmentalised for too long now.

The debate around Newcastle’s takeover has made me wonder how comfortably I can separate “what’s good for my team” vs “what’s good for society”. I don’t think I can anymore. I love my football club and I love winning, but I do believe football should be something that represents my belief system, too. It should always be something that helps create a better world, no matter how small.

We can’t act as if these moral conflicts don’t exist. When difficult questions are asked, we can’t avoid them and we must acknowledge the bigger picture.

Football should finally take lessons from what has happened in the last week. Football is big money. Big money is big business. Big business is big politics. As long as clubs remain a plaything or propaganda tool for billionaire businessmen, they will always be a political instrument. It’s too late to stop football and politics becoming inseparable, but that doesn’t mean the game can’t put rules in place to ensure the money flowing into it is as clean and ethical as it possibly can be.

With Chelsea now up for sale, it’s likely the idea of “ethical ownership” will come back into sharp focus with every bid that comes in. We can’t let history repeat itself.

We may receive a takeover bid from a billionaire who wants to emulate our recent success, or we may be taken over and our trophy record begins to look a lot like Tottenham’s. No matter what happens, as we wave those blue flags in support of our club, we can’t continue to ignore any red flags that oppose our morals.

@MayowaQuadri_