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Football: Vitesse docked 18 points amid Russia finance probe – DW – 04/20/2024


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The Netherlands‘ KNVB football association handed Vitesse Arnhem an 18-point deduction on Friday, making the struggling side’s relegation a mathematical certainty. 

It’s the largest penalty of its kind in the history of Dutch football. However, the club said it did not plan to appeal, and it welcomed the lifeline offered by the KNVB that means it might at least be able to retain its license and continue to exist as a club.

The club’s been in turmoil for some time now, as it tries and fails to extricate itself from Russian ownership following the invasion of Ukraine and EU sanctions against its current owner. 

Vitesse were already bottom of the league on 17 points with just a few matches left to save themselves. Now they have a nominal total of -1 points and relegation is inevitable. 

Vitesse players walk off after a 6-0 defeat to PSC on April 13
The club faced a crushing 6-0 defeat away to PSV Eindhoven last weekendImage: Toin Damen/PRO SHOTS/picture alliance

Why is the club in trouble? 

A mainstay in the Dutch Eredivisie top division for more than 30 years and in either Russian or Georgian ownership for the last decade, Vitesse is facing allegations of financial irregularities and licensing breaches as it tries and fails to convince authorities to approve a takeover by a US investment group. 

The team is still owned by Russian oligarch Valerij Oyf, and it used to be nicknamed “Chelsea B” because of the close ties it had to the London club when that was owned by Roman Abramovich. Several high-profile Chelsea players, including Nemanja Matic and Mason Mount, spent periods on loan in Arnhem. 

Vitesse owner Valeriy Oyf during the Dutch Eredivisie match between Vitesse Arnhem and Feyenoord Rotterdam at Gelredome on December 08, 2019 in Arnhem, The Netherlands.
Vitesse owner Valeriy Oyf bought in in 2018, and has been trying to get out since Russia’s invasion of his native Ukraine in 2022Image: Maurice van Steen/VI Images/imago images

Oyf, like Abramovich at Chelsea, made it clear soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that he was looking to sell the club. He would soon face EU sanctions, again like Abramovich. However, he has not been able to sell so far. 

Dutch authorities are not convinced by the financial viability of the takeover proposal, and accuse Vitesse of submitting false information while trying to secure approval for the change of ownership. 

An investigative report by British newspaper The Guardian and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, alleging a secret network of loans linking the club to Abramovich, and suggesting Abramovich ultimately funded the 2014 purchase of Vitesse by a Georgian investor, helped prompt the investigations. 

KNVB says penalty reflects ‘extent of the violations’

“The size of the sanction is based on the exceptional seriousness and the extent of the violations of the licensing system,” the KNVB said in a statement on Friday

It said the withheld information might even have hidden potential violations of sanctions against Russia.

“This includes providing incorrect information that was important for the forensic investigation into possible violations of sanctions legislation and withholding information important for the assessment of Vitesse’s continuity,” it said. 

The KNVB warned it continued to investigate other potential violations by Vitesse and said it would comment further should further penalties follow. 

It said it had responded to the club’s latest bid to win approval for new ownership, requesting an amended plan. It said it would update on this issue, too, as soon as a decision was reached. 

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Vitesse plans not to appeal, welcomes ray of hope for broader survival

Vitesse, meanwhile, said that it “will not appeal against the punishment and will seize the chance of retaining its license with both hands.” 

It conceded in a statement that some such sanction had long seemed “unavoidable” given that the club had been unable to meet certain requirements.

“For example, Vitesse did not submit the half-yearly figures correctly, acted incorrectly with regard to ING Bank and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, and the Vladimirov report was unable to demonstrate whether or not there are connections between Vitesse and Roman Abramovich,” the club said. 

Interim general manager Edwin Reijntjes was quoted as saying that although it was a “dark day” for everyone who cares about Vitesse, facing relegation for the first time this century, “this is the harsh reality.”

“On the other hand — and I really want to make this clear to everyone — we are extremely happy with the opportunity that is being offered to us to retain our license. This too was hanging by a thread,” Reijntjes said. 

A revocation of the club’s license would effectively mark its dissolution, at least temporarily, with it unable to compete in any KNVB-organized competitions. 

Friday’s penalty, at least as it stands, foresees the club fighting in the Dutch second divsion next year.

msh/wd (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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