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SPORTS UPDATE

Chelsea withdraws ‘bizarre’ request for behind closed doors tie

Chelsea have withdrawn their request for their FA Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors following “constructive talks”, a spokesman for the Football Association said on Tuesday.

The Premier League club said hours earlier they wanted Saturday’s game at the Riverside played in an empty stadium after the British government blocked them from making new ticket sales, with only existing ticket holders allowed to attend matches.

The Blues have pushed ministers for relaxations to the strict operating licence put in place after Russian owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned last week as part of a set of punitive measures following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The licence is designed to prevent Chelsea and by extension their billionaire owner — described by the government as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle — from generating new revenue.

The club issued a statement on Tuesday calling for the FA Cup sixth-round tie to be played behind closed doors in the interests of fairness and “sporting integrity”.

But the Championship club hit back with a strong statement of their own, making a pointed reference to the reasons Chelsea were in their current situation and saying they would resist the club’s actions “in the strongest terms”.

“We are aware of Chelsea’s request to have Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup sixth-round tie played behind closed doors and find their suggestion both bizarre and without any merit whatsoever,” Middlesbrough said in their statement.

“Given the reasons for these sanctions, for Chelsea to seek to invoke sporting ‘integrity’ as reason for the game being played behind closed doors is ironic in the extreme,” it added.

Chelsea Supporters’ Trust said it had asked the club to withdraw their request, while the government saw “no reason” why the match should be played without fans.

The FA later confirmed the match would take place in front of supporters as planned.

“After constructive talks between the FA and Chelsea, the club has agreed to remove their request for the Emirates FA Cup quarter-final tie against Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors,” a spokesman tweeted.

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