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07 April 2022

Chicago Cubs director serious about Chelsea, fighting discrimination and bigotry

07 April 2022

Laura Ricketts has revealed fighting discrimination and bigotry as her “life’s work” amid a candid message to Chelsea supporters.

The Chicago Cubs director believes her experience as America’s only gay sports franchise boss would help the Ricketts family lead an inclusive and welcoming Chelsea.

The Ricketts are among the four consortiums bidding to buy Chelsea from Roman Abramovich, but have come under criticism from Blues fans amid historic family issues.

Roman Abramovich, pictured, will sell Chelsea after 19 years at the Stamford Bridge helm (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

Joe Ricketts branded Muslims “my enemy” in leaked emails from 2019, but the family patriarch will not have a role in the bid for Chelsea.

Cubs co-owner Tom Ricketts has described his father’s comments as “abhorrent”, with the Major League Baseball side building strong links with Muslim communities in the US.

Laura Ricketts revealed positive meetings with Chelsea LGBTQ fan groups last week, as well as Kick It Out, having also attended Chelsea Women’s 5-0 win over Reading on Sunday.

The 54-year-old has now explained how her own personal experiences led her to spearhead a bid for Chelsea that she believes fans can support.

“We’re not going to be able to persuade all the fans right away that we will be good stewards of Chelsea – we’re going to have to show them with meaningful action if we are successful in our bid,” said Laura Ricketts.

“But I can assure all Chelsea fans that it has been my life’s work to fight against discrimination and bigotry of any kind.

“Coming out as an LGBTQ+ woman has influenced my perspective and sensitivity about diversity and inclusion. I can’t know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes, but I can begin to understand and have an awareness of their different experience.

“And that’s a gift. In the position that I’m in, I feel a sense of responsibility to be an advocate. To me, being an advocate means speaking up, and also listening.”

Russian-Israeli billionaire Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on March 2, amid Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.

The 55-year-old was then sanctioned by the UK Government on March 10, with Downing Street claiming to have proven his links to Vladimir Putin.

Chelsea have been granted a special Government licence to continue operating, although under strict terms.

Laura and Tom Ricketts went to watch Emma Hayes, pictured, lead Chelsea Women to a 5-0 win over Reading on Sunday (Bradley Collyer/PA) (PA Wire)

Abramovich cannot profit from Chelsea’s sale, but had already vowed to write off the club’s £1.5billion debt.

LA Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly and British business titan Jonathan Goldstein, Sir Martin Broughton and Lord Sebastian Coe, and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca are the other remaining contenders.

The four consortiums vying to buy Chelsea must submit final offers for the club on April 11.

“We have had a memorable few days in London, taking the opportunity to meet as many people as possible from a wide variety of backgrounds,” said Laura Ricketts.

“Obviously, I can’t comment on talks we had with Chelsea officials because that has to remain confidential.

“But I can say we had very informative and enjoyable meetings with some passionate fan groups – in particular with Tracy Brown from Chelsea Pride and Kerrie Evans from Chelsea Women Supporters’ Group.

“We also met Sanjay Bhandari, the Chair of Kick It Out, and it was wonderful to hear about all the work he’s doing. We admire their approach and would like to introduce them to Major League Baseball.

“Tracy Brown reminded me of a lot of people I know and have worked with in Chicago – leaders who put themselves out there for their community.

“She loves Chelsea and wants herself and her community to be acknowledged and to have a voice.

Sanjay Bhandari, pictured, has met with Laura Ricketts amid Chelsea’s sale (Bradley Collyer/PA) (PA Archive)

“We agreed to stay in touch, starting with a Zoom next week with me and the Founder of Out at Wrigley, an annual LGBTQ+ event that the Cubs have hosted at Wrigley Field since 2001.

“I was also thrilled to go to the Chelsea Women’s game at the weekend and I flew in early to make the match. It was a joy to see the incredible athletic talent of the Chelsea Women and to also experience the supporters’ amazing energy at Kingsmeadow.

“Much of my life’s work has been about empowering and supporting women, so to see these young women playing at this level was a real treat for me.

“It was also so great to see all the families who were at the game. Sport has such power to bring communities together and family is at the heart of the community.

“Some of the girls there reminded me of my 11-year-old daughter. For young girls to see the Chelsea Women on the pitch can be inspiring and empowering to them.

“In recent weeks, we’ve also had several valuable conversations with the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust.

“I appreciate their passion for Chelsea and the important questions they’ve raised. I look forward to continuing the good conversations we’ve begun.

“We all need to be listening and speaking up, and I feel a particular responsibility because of the position I’m in.

Graffiti close to Stamford Bridge shows supporter frustration with the Chelsea sale (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

“When we assumed responsibility for the Chicago Cubs and its legacy, we immediately realised that teams like the Cubs don’t belong to one person or organisation. They belong to the fans. We’re stewards – and we’re answerable to the fans. That’s how we see it in Chicago – and it would be exactly the same at Chelsea.

“There is such power in sport for community building and to bring diverse people together. At Cubs Charities, we have developed our own sport-based youth development programming that engages young people and families in under-served communities. As the chair of Cubs Charities, I am proud of our work and the impact it has on so many lives.

“Here, the Chelsea Foundation already makes a significant impact and I would hope we could help build on this.

“We strive to be champions both on and off the field. It’s what makes Chelsea great, and is a tradition we would honour if we were to become the club’s next stewards.”

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