LONDON (AP) — On a rare visit to Chelsea, owner Roman Abramovich was praised on Sunday by Israeli President Isaac Herzog for using the Premier League leaders' platform to campaign against antisemitism.
The small event, attended by about 50 people, was the first time Abramovich has been seen at Chelsea's stadium since 2018 when he withdrew his application for a British visa renewal.
The Russian-Israeli businessman traveled to London as an Israeli citizen and he spent around two hours on Sunday morning at the Imperial War Museum London to see the Holocaust Galleries he helped to fund with donations.
Herzog, at the start of a visit to London, said during an address to the audience in a suite at Chelsea's west London stadium that the “club is a shining example of how sports and teams can be a force of good and for shaping a more tolerant tomorrow.”
Abramovich has been funding a “Say No To Antisemitism” initiative advanced by the club to address concerns about hatred toward Jewish people.
“The culture and politics of sport at times brings out the worst in humanity," Herzog said, “as we have seen over and over again with antisemitic, racist and violent incidents inside and outside stadiums and in the refusal of athletes to compete against, or shake hands with, their Israeli counterparts.”
The afternoon tea event also celebrated Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott, who went on to compete at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics for Britain in weightlifting and is 92 on Monday. Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck highlighted the club's "49 Flames" initiative that refers to the number of Olympic medalists who were murdered during the Holocaust.
Abramovich could attend Chelsea's Champions League match against Juventus on Tuesday given that he is in London but nothing has been announced. He hasn't been seen at a home game since the British visa complexities emerged in 2018. A visa renewal application was taking longer than usual to go through and was withdrawn.
It came at a time when Britain pledged to review the long-term visas of rich Russians in the aftermath of the poisonings of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. Britain blames Russia for the pair’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation Moscow strongly denies, and Abramovich is not linked to.
Abramovich has attended Chelsea games abroad since then, including the Champions League final win over Manchester City in the Portuguese city of Porto in May. He also went to Boston in 2019 to see Chelsea play a friendly against the New England Revolution to raise funds for the campaign against antisemitism.
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press