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Media: European football club transfers may have violated Russian sanctions

by Elsa Court December 13, 2023 12:08 AM 3 min read
Stockphoto of a player striking a ball on a grass field during a professional football match. (Lighthouse Films via Getty Images)
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Almost 30 European football clubs have made deals with Russian clubs since February 2022 that may have violated Western sanctions against Russia, the Dutch investigative outlet Follow the Money reported on Dec. 12.

Major clubs, such as PSV in the Netherlands, Olympique Lyon in France, and Real Sociedad in Spain, have made player transfer deals that amount to millions of euros with Russian clubs.

According to Follow the Money, 28 football clubs in the EU may be guilty of violating Western sanctions "in some way."

This includes arranging transfers with Russian clubs whose Russian owners have been sanctioned for their role in upholding Russia's regime and its invasion of Ukraine.

Follow the Money investigated the Eindhoven-based club PSV, which reportedly paid a fee of three million euros to Spartak Moscow to transfer player Guus Til in July 2022.

PSV Financial Director Jaap van Baar said his club "didn't do anything wrong," as Spartak Moscow's owner, Russia's largest private oil company Lukoil, was not under EU sanctions.

Lukoil has, however, been listed under U.S. sanctions against Russia since 2014, Follow the Money noted.

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PSV faced difficulties paying the transfer fee to Spartak Moscow due to international banking restrictions.

According to Follow the Money, "the two clubs agreed to transfer the money in two tranches," the first to Sparktak's Austrian-based bank account. PSV's Dutch bank blocked the second tranche.

UEFA rules required that if the fee could not be paid, it was to be held by the team's national football association.

National sporting bodies may therefore also be involved in violating sanctions, as the Dutch National Football Association is essentially "hoarding money" intended for a Russian entity, contrary to EU rules, Follow the Money said.

Russian clubs have been involved in the transfer of 1,000 players since February 2022, according to Follow the Money's research into data from the website Transfermarkt.

The Russian clubs have mainly traded with clubs in Europe and South America, making transfers worth around 300 million euros ($324 million) in total.

Some European clubs, such as Olympique Lyon, have even done business with Akhmat Grozny, a Chechen football team that has warlord Ramzan Kadyrov as its honorary chairman.  

Other European clubs were involved in transfers to Russian clubs in Sochi, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod.

According to FIFA, "it is up to the clubs" to ensure compliance with international sanctions, Follow the Money said.

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