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'Exemplary': Roman Abramovich and Chelsea win praise after announcing players will not be taking pay cuts during COVID-19 crisis

'Exemplary': Roman Abramovich and Chelsea win praise after announcing players will not be taking pay cuts during COVID-19 crisis
Owner Roman Abramovich will not be asking players to help Chelsea financially while the Premier League is suspended, backing the club so that it can pay staff fully, compensate fans for suspended games and support charities.

Abramovich has guided the club's response to the coronavirus outbreak in England, providing accommodation for National Health Service staff in 128 hotel rooms at Stamford Bridge while offering free meals to the NHS and charities supporting vulnerable groups as part of an initiative that has now been expanded to provide 81,000 nutritious meals for healthcare staff.

Director Marina Granovskaia had been in talks with representatives of the first-team squad over a potential 10% pay cut while gate receipts and other traditional revenue streams are all-but extinguished by the sport being halted, but they will now be expected to focus on supporting charities while remaining open to future discussions around backing club activities financially.

Chelsea's annual wage bill is thought to be around $345 million but the club said it would not be applying for the UK government scheme which pays a proportion of any staff wages until the end of June and would not be offering staff redundancies or furloughs, continuing to pay casual staff as if their postponed fixtures had gone ahead.

Liverpool and Tottenham, last season's Champions League finalists, were among the clubs to receive criticism and eventually backtrack on plans to use the scheme, although Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth have furloughed staff, while clubs including Arsenal and Sheffield United have agreed wage cuts and deferrals and others are yet to make a firm decision.

Ticket holders will be offered credits for any remaining matches that go ahead behind closed doors as part of a mooted attempt by the Premier League to complete the current season, and 3,800 supporters who had been due to travel to Munich for the return leg of the club's Champions League Round of 16 tie against Bayern will be reimbursed up to £350.

Chelsea are arguably in a stronger position than many leading clubs to cope with the loss of revenue brought about by the crisis – only around 15% of the club's income is thought to come from matchday sources – but the announcement was widely praised by commentators and fans.

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"A few clubs have come out of this period with huge credit in terms of what they have done for the community and the NHS," said John Cross, of the Mirror.

"Chelsea and Roman Abramovich have been remarkable in that regard."

Henry Winter, of The Times, called the club's response to the pandemic "exemplary", and David Chidgey, of the Chelsea FanCast, described the initiatives, which include match donations to domestic abuse charity Refuge, as "absolutely outstanding."

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Premier League players have been at the centre of a row during the outbreak in England, sparked when Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock singled out footballers as a group who should be expected to sacrifice pay while many across the country are suffering financial hardship.

Critics questioned why the country's most high-profile athletes should be specified ahead of equally wealthy groups in other professions, and some of the acrimony of the debate was removed when hundreds of players announced they were taking part in the Players Together scheme set up to support the NHS and charitable causes, including Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta.

"I think it was inappropriate to hear those kind of comments," the defender remarked of Hancock's comments.

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"We needed time to make it right and work in the way that everybody wanted. In the end we got it and I am very happy with the final result."

Azpilicueta initially spoke to Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson, who spearheaded the initiative, and said that two club doctors had joined the NHS in critical medical roles.

One of Azpilicueta's fellow defenders, Antonio Rudiger, also announced this week that he will be covering the catering costs for staff at the Berlin hospital where he was born for the next three months.

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