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Chelsea ask for FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors amid government sanctions

Middlesbrough hit back at Chelsea after Blues request Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at the Riverside to be played behind closed doors due to sanctions banning them from selling away tickets; Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston says rules may be relaxed

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich

Middlesbrough have slammed Chelsea's "bizarre" request to play Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at the Riverside behind closed doors.

Chelsea's ticket sales were halted last Thursday in the wake of Roman Abramovich's sanctioning by the UK government over his links with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Blues are only allowed to continue operating through a special licence granted by the government, which permits existing ticket holders to attend matches, but new sales - including home and away matchday tickets - have not been allowed.

Chelsea have sold 650 tickets out of their initial away allocation of 4,620 at the Riverside and Chelsea believe they are now at a sporting disadvantage and that a behind-closed-doors game would be "the fairest way of proceeding in the current circumstances".

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Gary Neville says the situation at Chelsea is a 'wake-up call' for football, and expects an independent regulator to come in to oversee the sale of clubs in the future.

The FA has confirmed Chelsea have contacted them to request the game be played in front of an empty stadium, a move Middlesbrough - whose 30,000 home tickets had all sold out - have called "bizarre" and "without any merit whatsoever" in a statement on their website.

They wrote: "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 Middlesbrough and our fans should be penalised is not only grossly unfair but without any foundation.

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"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 Middlesbrough will resist Chelsea's actions in the strongest terms."

Chelsea Supporters Trust have also called on the club to withdraw its request, saying "playing behind closed doors does not benefit any supporters". The group also re-iterated its request to the Government to relax its licence and allow the Blues to resume selling match tickets.

Chelsea have been in discussions with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation about ticket sales for the game, but has been unable to find a breakthrough as yet - and a request to give tickets away to fans for free has not been answered by the government.

In a statement on their website posted earlier on Tuesday, they wrote: "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.

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Property developer and prospective Chelsea owner Nick Candy says he loves the club and doesn't mind who takes over as long as it is in safe hands.

"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, who beat Manchester United and Tottenham to reach this stage, have been contacted for comment.

Sports Minister suggests ticket sales could resume

Sports Minister Nigel Huddlestone 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, so long as Abramovich does not profit from the move.

He said: "The measures we have taken and the licence we have given to Chelsea is to precisely stop [Chelsea going out of business]. 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 le's not forget this is because of in 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."

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Chelsea's win over Newcastle in the Premier League.

Analysis: Chelsea move all about putting pressure on government

Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol:

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Kaveh Solhekol explains why Chelsea are asking for their FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors with sanctions placed upon their owner, Roman Abramovich.

"Chelsea have been in talks daily with the government, saying these restrictions to sell tickets are unfair and need to be relaxed. They were even willing to give away 4,000 tickets away for free to their fans, but have not heard back from the government.

"I don't think Chelsea are expecting Middlesbrough or the FA to agree to play this game behind closed doors. They understand a lot of Middlesbrough fans have bought tickets for the game and it's a big occasion for them.

"I think this is about applying a little bit of pressure on the government, saying this is the situation, you need to let us sell tickets because we can't carry on like this.

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Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston says the Government are working with Chelsea to ensure the sanctions impact Roman Abramovich and not the club and its fans.

"Separately is the issue that Chelsea can only spend £20,000 on away travel. If that is in place on Saturday, Chelsea will not be able to get to Middlesbrough and return in the fashion they are used to. They could all get on a coach, drive there and back - but normally it would cost a club the kind of Chelsea something like £60,000 to travel to Middlesbrough and back."

Tuchel: Increasing travel budget not about 'bling-bling'

Chelsea's new licence limits the club to spending £20,000 per away match on travel, though the Blues are looking to increase that figure in discussion with the government.

The average Premier League spend per away match comes in at roughly £30,000 and European away fixtures add an extra premium.

Tuchel admitted Chelsea have already had to cut their cloth accordingly ahead of Wednesday's Champions League last-16 second leg in Lille.

But the Blues boss insisted Chelsea's demands are not about luxury, but instead about elite athletes avoiding possible soft-tissue injuries amid a packed schedule.

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Roman Abramovich is set to face new sanctions from the European Union as it looks likely he will be added to a list of Russian billionaires sanctioned following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"It isn't about luxury and bling-bling," said Tuchel. "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.

"Regarding these organisations, it is already more difficult to arrange things on a professional level, in the best way possible, for the FA Cup.

"But we will deal with it. As long as we have shirts and are 'alive' as a team, we will be competitive and fight hard for our success.

"We owe it to the people who support us. Of course, we are in the spotlight and it is our responsibility to do so. We will do it."

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