English soccer’s top-tier Premier League is currently reviewing its broadcast rights deal in Russia with Rambler, the major media corporation, in light of the country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the league’s chief executive Richard Masters has said.
Masters, speaking at a London conference yesterday (March 3), said the deal – set to come to an end after the close of the 2021-22 season in May this year – was “under review”.
He said: “We’re looking at the contracts [in Russia] very closely in terms of suspension, termination. It’s happening rights now, it’s a fast-moving situation.”
For the 2022-23 season, the dedicated sports broadcaster Match TV, part of the majority state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom, is set to take control of Premier League broadcast rights in the country, through a six-year deal struck last July, covering the league through 2027-28.
Rambler currently covers the action through its dedicated online streaming platform Okko.
Masters also said that, in terms of the immediate Premier League rights situation in Russia for the upcoming fixtures over the next few days: “I would like the Russian people to see the strength of feeling in the Premier League and in English soccer.”
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The chief executive also said he and other members of the league’s hierarchy are reviewing the current owners’ and directors’ test, through which prospective buyers of any of the 20 clubs can be evaluated by the league in terms of their suitability as a potential owner.
The discussion around the test has come as a result of Chelsea’s long-time owner, Roman Abramovich, coming under serious scrutiny over the last few days for alleged links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Indeed, as the discussion at UK government level turns to potentially sanctioning Abramovich and seizing his UK assets (which include Chelsea), the Russian businessman and billionaire has officially declared his intention to sell the club, which he bought in 2003.
Masters, addressing the conference, said: “The test has been under a lot of scrutiny in the last 12 months and we’re looking at it again.”
In response to a question on whether Abramovich being sanctioned by the British government would make a mockery of the test, he said: “I don’t think so.”
In terms of whether a human rights element could be added to the test – something which Amnesty International advocated for strongly after a consortium that was heavily backed by a Saudi Arabian investment vehicle acquired Newcastle United late last year – Masters said that the league has “had some helpful conversations with Amnesty International.”
He said the league is “looking at whether more tests need to be added, whether we need to be more transparent about those decisions and whether independent scrutiny really needs to be put on top of it.”
Any changes to the test would need to be approved by 14 of the 20 clubs.
Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, has said previously: “The Premier League has a clear moral responsibility to change its ownership rules to put a stop to top-flight English soccer being used as a PR vehicle for those complicit in serious human rights violations.”
Abramovich has always denied all allegations of close links to Putin.
Elsewhere, the Russian Football Union (RFS), has said it will appeal to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), against its ban from all competitive international soccer, which was handed down by the FIFA (global) and UEFA (European) governing bodies earlier this week.
On Monday (February 28), FIFA and UEFA said they were suspending RFS and its representative teams – across men’s, women’s and youth-group soccer – until further notice, as a result of the invasion, which has so far led to over 1 million Ukrainians being displaced, according to the UN.
This means that, at the moment, Russian teams will be excluded from the men’s FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar in November and December, as well as from the UEFA Women’s European Championships in England later this year.
The RFS wants its national teams reinstated into both competitions, and has said it will ask CAS to suspend the competitions if they are not allowed back in.
Russian soccer authorities have said they believe “that FIFA and UEFA did not have a legal basis when deciding on the removal of Russian teams …
“When making decisions, they did not take into account other possible options for action.”
They added that the RFS “was also not given the right to present its position, which violated the fundamental right to defense.”
The RFS has said it will “insist on an expedited procedure for considering the case [to] ensure the possibility of the participation of Russian teams in the next scheduled matches.”
It has claimed the decision made by the two governing bodies was “made under pressure from direct rivals in the playoffs, which violated the principle of sports and the rules of fair play.”
The ban also extends across EFA's various pan-European club competitions – the top-tier Champions League, second-tier Europa League (from which Spartak Moscow have now been thrown out), and the Europa Conference League.
Meanwhile, UEFA made the decision yesterday to also sanction Belarus – through which Russian troops and weapons have flowed into Ukraine as part of the invasion – and to make its clubs and national teams play all upcoming ‘home’ games (in UEFA competitions) at neutral venues, and behind closed doors.
The sanctions will apply to both club and national teams, with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko being a close ally of Putin.
The measures will cover all qualifying games for the Euros, as well as games in the UEFA Nations League, while for clubs it will extend across the Champions League, Europa League, and Europa Conference League.