Ricketts family defend diversity record after fan backlash over Chelsea bid

A logo is seen at an entrance to Stamford Bridge, the stadium for Chelsea Football Club, after Russian businessman Roman Abramovich said on Wednesday that he would sell Chelsea, 19 years after buying it, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in London, Britain March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville

MANCHESTER, England, March 23 (Reuters) - Chicago Cubs owners the Ricketts family, who are among a number bidders hoping to buy Premier League club Chelsea, declared that "diversity is central to our values" after a fan backlash over previous racist remarks.

The reaction was in response to leaked emails from 2019 in which American businessman Joe Ricketts described Muslims as his "enemy". Sources close to the deal have told Reuters Joe has nothing to do with the Chelsea offer, with his son Tom fronting it.

There has been a #notoRicketts social media campaign, with Chelsea's first black player, Paul Canoville, demanding the club turn down the offer from Ricketts' consortium. Chelsea are in consultation with U.S. bank Raine Group to draw up a shortlist of viable bidders.

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"Our family rejects any form of hate in the strongest possible terms," the Ricketts family told Reuters in a statement. "Racism and Islamophobia have no place whatsoever in our society.

"We have developed deep and abiding partnerships with the Muslim community in Chicago, as well as with all communities of colour.

"Respect for diversity and inclusion are central to our family's values. If we prevail in our bid for Chelsea, we commit to the club and to the fans that we will actively promote these values."

The family have formed a consortium with Citadel founder and American businessman Ken Griffin.

Tom Ricketts has already spoken with the Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham, Greg Hands.

A delegation representing the Ricketts family are due to fly to London this week to meet representatives from fan groups, the Chelsea Pitch Owners and the Chelsea Supporters' Trust, over their concerns.

"The past few weeks have been a deeply unsettling time for Chelsea supporters," the Chelsea Supporters' Trust said in a statement on Wednesday. "We want to do what we can to protect the club from falling into the wrong hands.

"We also believe there is an opportunity for supporters to be given a stake in the club in order to protect the club's heritage.

"We have called for all prospective owners to reach out to us and many have. We are pleased to say that we have been successful in securing such commitments from more than one bidder and we believe our expectations should be adopted by all bidders."

There is no guarantee the Ricketts family will make the shortlist to take Chelsea off Roman Abramovoch's hands, with Raine yet to decide. Sources close to the deal said a shortlist of three is being planned.

Chelsea were initially put up for sale by Abramovich following Russia's invasion of Ukraine before sanctions were imposed on the billionaire oligarch by the British government, effectively giving it control of the club.

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Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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