Was Supporting Chelsea Immoral? Here’s What Moral Philosopher Peter Singer Has to Say:
TL;DR- He says it wasn’t unethical… fully.
Roman Abramovich has been forced to sell Chelsea Football Club due to sanctions levied by the United Kingdom on Russian Oligarchs.
Chelsea fans like myself now have mixed emotions towards Roman Abramovich and our support of Chelsea.
On the one hand, Abramovich’s ownership led to Chelsea winning the most titles of any Premiership club-how dope. On the other hand, his money came from proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even prior to the recent events in Ukraine, President Putin had a reputation as a quasi-dictatorial leader and an “enemy of Western Ideals.”
So, was it immoral to support Chelsea knowing that its success was funded by a Vladimir Putin Acolyte?
Enter Professor Peter Singer
The first person who came to mind when thinking of this dilemma was Professor Peter Singer. Prof. Singer is one of the foremost scholars on ethics and society and presently teaches at Princeton University. His book, The Life You Can Save, is considered to be one of the hallmarks of modern utilitarian ethics. His ideas are obviously nuanced and complex but Professor Chad Vance of The University of Colorado states-it can be summarized as “If we can prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, then we ought to do so.”
Would supporting supporting a team other than Chelsea have been prevented something bad from happening?
The Analogy of the Pond.
A good place to start is his book “The Life You Can Save.” Here Prof. Singer draws his famed thought experiment- “The Analogy of the Pond.” In the book, Singer makes our financial responsibility go from impersonal to tangible.
Singer explains the analogy to Vox’s Ezra Klein below.
Imagine you’re walking across a park. Somewhere in that park there’s a pond. You know the pond is quite shallow, but you see something splashing in the pond. When you look closer, you’re shocked to find that it’s a small child who seems to have fallen into the pond and is flailing around because it’s too deep for this small child to stand. So, you look around for the parents or the babysitter, but there’s nobody. There seems to be only you and the child. Your next thought is, I better run down to the pond, jump into the pond, and grab the child. Not hard to do. No risk to me because the pond is shallow.
But then it does occur to you that [saving the child] is going to ruin your most expensive shoes. You’ll be up for some hundreds of dollars to replace them and other clothes you might ruin. So, you think, why shouldn’t I just walk away and not have to go to the expense of replacing my shoes? Now the question for everybody is: If somebody did that, would you think that was really the wrong thing to do? Would you think that you had done something seriously wrong in leaving the child very probably to drown? Most of the people who I ask this of say that would be an awful thing to do — it would be terrible to allow a child to drown because you didn’t want to go to the expense of buying new shoes, even if they were expensive ones.
The point of the thought experiment is to then switch to the situation that we really are in. We live in an affluent society where we often have considerably more than we need to meet all our basic needs, enjoy life, and make reasonable provision for the future. We also are living in a world in which there are millions of children who die each year from preventable causes and there are effective organizations that would gladly accept a donation from you that would increase their ability to save some of these children. So, if you’re not helping to save some of these children, then are you really all that different from the person who walks past the child in the pond?
Back to Chelsea
So, with Chelsea Football Club it could be asked that by supporting them are you in effect acting like the person who lets a child die in favor of purchasing a pair of luxury shoes? By actively supporting a team you know is financed by someone whose money comes from an ‘immoral way” are you in a way culpable for the deeds which of the owner?
What Peter Singer Said
I emailed Prof. Singer asking him about this, and his thoughts on the morality of supporting Chelsea. Below is his response:
Not at all the same, but still, it would have been better, in my view, to switch allegiances. In general, I prefer clubs that are owned by their members, like other membership associations — that’s how Australian Football League clubs are generally constituted.
What it Means
While Prof. Singer says that there cannot be a moral parallel drawn between the Pond Dilemma and supporting Chelsea he does mention that it would be more moral to find a different team to support.
A Tough Conundrum.
While millions of Chelsea fans came due to the success that the team had during the Abramovich era, there were many fans prior to the acquisition. Would one group of such fans be more moral than the other? Should the first set have switched their alliances when Abramovich purchased the club? Should other clubs like Real Madrid, whose start came from support by the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco be considered as immoral? There are many different rabbit holes to go down if one starts to go down this frame of thinking, and perhaps it is too much moral philosophy for most of us who use sports as refuge from the troubles of our daily lives.
Moreover, for many Chelsea fans who still support Roman Abramovich the “morality of having supported this team” is moot. This group is large enough that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to ask them to stop chanting at matches.
If it is worth anything, Abramovich himself has has spoken out against the Ukrainian invasion. He has made efforts to sell the club and give proceeds to Ukrainian charities, and is actively aiming to foster peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. He has made no public statement, though, on how he built his wealth and
The First of Many?
While Chelsea is the subject on everyone’s mind at the moment, football has increasingly embraced controversial cash. Similar qualms exist with clubs like Paris Saint Germain and Manchester City that have been purchased by wealthy Middle Eastern Oligarchs with proximity to Gulf Royal families.
Most recently Newcastle United were sold to the Saudi Arabian government-a government believed to have organized the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Ultimately, the authorities of football leagues should be the ones tasked with making such moral decisions-reigning in the power that individual club owners have over who they sell to. In the United States, when there was a controversy over the LA Clippers Basketball Team owner Donald Sterling for racist remarks, the league, not the government, forced him to sell the team. Perhaps it is time for the authorities to become authoritative, even if that means loosing out on some big bucks.
Maybe the Premier League and the Football Association, whose head is Prince William, should start viewing their own actions in the same lens as that of the man at the pond, and ask itself if it wants people like Roman Abramovich and Prince Mohammed bin Salman as their financiers. Perhaps an argument could be made that if British League doesn’t take their money, another league would?
Maybe Prince William and Premier League President Richard Masters should ask themselves for the sake of having a “pair of cool shoes,” are they letting the beautiful game allowing itself to become morally bankrupt?