17th Jul, 2019

BREAKING: Wasps boss refuses to answer amid accusations of 'misleading public' over his reason for blocking Ricoh talks with Coventry City

Les Reid 5th Mar, 2019 Updated: 6th Mar, 2019

WASPS’ chief executive is facing accusations of misleading the public by claiming today that ending the stalemate to allow Coventry City to continue playing at the Ricoh Arena would expose the rugby club’s business to more risk – if the football club’s owners don’t drop legal action against the council.

We asked Wasps boss Nick Eastwood to justify the claim he made on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire this morning. It came as Coventry City was today updating the English Football League on its attempts to continue playing at the Ricoh next season while exploring other groundshare options if forced – while facing potential expulsion at a crucial EFL meeting on April 25 if the matter is not resolved.

But Mr Eastwood flatly refused to answer our question and clarify for our readers what he had meant – given Wasps could continue facing legal action from CCFC’s owners Sisu wherever the club are.

CCFC also today released a statement on their website in response to the findings of last week’s Coventry Observer Freedom of Information request to Coventry City Council, as council leader George Duggins again refused to meet the club.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Eastwood re-iterated Wasps’ position that they will not talk about extending Coventry City’s tenancy after it expires this season unless Sisu companies end all legal action, amid a court appeal against the council and Higgs charity’s controversial sale of the Ricoh Arena management company to London Wasps Holdings Limited in 2014.

Asked by the BBC if there was anything he would be prepared to do to break the deadlock and prevent the potential “disaster” of the Sky Blues ceasing to exist, Mr Eastwood said: “If we were to try and do something from our side of the fence, that might lead me in my position to expose the Wasps Group to significant potential risks.

“It’s not a case of wanting to do it, it’s case of being able to do it. I think I would be failing in my statutory duties.”

Backed by supportive readers on social media, the Coventry Observer put it to Mr Eastwood that his claim to the BBC was wholly misleading.

We asked the following written questions:

1. It is seemingly misleading nonsense from Wasps rugby boss Nick Eastwood on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire to claim that extending Coventry City’s Ricoh tenancy would expose the Wasps business to more risk. How? Sisu’s legal action could continue over Coventry council’s 2014 Ricoh Arena sale wherever CCFC are.

2. You appeared to claim that should Sisu drop all legal action, Wasps would be open to discussions about a deal on ticketing and sales. Could you make this clear… Would Wasps be open to discussing a wide-ranging fair deal with the football club on Ricoh equity/ownership and substantial 24/7 and matchday commercial revenues? This has of course always been at the heart of this long-running dispute, before and after the 2014 sale of the Ricoh to London Wasps Holdings Limited which continues to disadvantage the football club.

3. Why can’t Wasps just agree an extension of Coventry City’s tenancy for another year or two and enable the legal action to take its course, with due process? If Wasps are so confident, there is nothing to fear. It was done last year, so why not for next season too?

Mr Eastwood responded to the above questions with the following short written response via PR agency Advent Communications. “We made our position clear when we commenced negotiations on the current deal in late summer 2017, so the football club and its owners have had since then to take the steps which are necessary to safeguard their own future at the Ricoh Arena.

“This situation cannot continue so we gave the owners that time to draw this to a conclusion for the good of Coventry City and their supporters, the Ricoh Arena and the city as a whole. They have chosen not to do that.

“We would like Coventry City to be playing at the Ricoh Arena and – if that was to happen on the permanent cessation of any legal proceedings – it would be natural to share some commercial activity such as retail and ticketing.”

We responded with the following questions:

“Many readers will note that this standard buckpassing response avoids answering my first question.

“I specifically questioned Mr Eastwood over his seemingly wholly misleading assertion on BBC radio this morning that the Wasps business is more at risk if CCFC continues as a tenant while legal action continues.

“How can that position be justified, or does Mr Eastwood wish to continue to ignore the question?

“Is he ruling out discussions for a fair deal over Ricoh Arena equity/ownership and revenues for CCFC beyond just sharing ‘retailing and ticketing’ arrangements? I’m sure he would agree that it is important he is not misunderstood on this point and I seek clarity now.

“Would he wish to add anything by way of response to my other questions?”

The response was that Wasps were happy with the answer supplied.

Questions to Sisu

Our Freedom of Information story last Friday followed our front page in December (both articles linked here) in which we put detailed questions to all parties in the multi-party dispute, including Sisu which is still refusing to answer questions and is remaining silent. We had asked Sisu..

1. Why don’t you now drop the appeal to the Supreme Court against the council in the hope of an arrangement with Wasps for Coventry City to play at the Ricoh Arena, as fans want, rather than contributing to a situation where the club’s future is apparently in jeopardy?

2. What is your understanding of the Supreme Court’s timescale for an initial decision of whether the appeal can go forward?

3. And if it does, what’s your understanding of the timescale for a hearing?

CCFC ‘demands answers’

The CCFC website statement today “demands answers” from the council – which still holds the stadium’s freehold – over “unconditional promises made regarding the security and future of the club in 2014”.

It refers to a council private report from October 2014 disclosed to the Coventry Observer last week, which appears to provide more evidence that a council condition in agreements concerning the Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps was that it must protect the security and future of the football club.

The previously private report which guided all councillors on the proposed deal states: “2.5.11 The City Council remains committed to try to ensure that CCFC is able to continue to play its home matches at the Ricoh Arena. It will include a requirement in agreements underpinning the sale that this option must exist for CCFC subject to it reaching a commercial agreement with ACL. The terms of this transaction do not impact in any way on the terms of the August 2014 licence agreement with CCFC which will be fully honoured.”

The council refused to release to us agreements with Wasps and other documents requested. We are calling on the council to review how it handled our FoI request, and are considering a potential appeal to the Information Commissioner, arguing full disclosure would be in the public interest.

CCFC’s statement today says the council report we uncovered provides “further, clear evidence that the unconditional council promise was not limited to four years as (council leader) Councillor Duggins claims.”

CCFC’s statement also points out that Coun Duggins has been a leading figure throughout the dispute, since his previous position as deputy leader in 2012 when he took part alongside former leader John Mutton in failed talks over joint Ricoh ownership with CCFC and Sisu.

The CCFC statement adds: “George Duggins is trying to re-write history. If when the deal was announced in 2014, the council had said ‘four years’ for their promise to the city’s football club and fans – would the deal have been accepted by the people of Coventry, or would they have challenged it?”

The CCFC statement continues: We would also welcome an explanation why the council is desperately seeking a meeting with the management of Aldi over the closure of a supermarket in Bell Green, also within Councillor Duggins’ ward, but refuses to meet with us over the future of the club?”

A joint statement from Coun Duggins and opposition Conservative leader Gary Ridley said:

“Coventry City Council has always been clear that any future agreement to play at the Ricoh Arena would be dependent on Wasps and CCFC reaching a commercial agreement. That remains the case today.

“The current situation is about the fact that a commercial agreement cannot be reached due to the continuation of legal action by the football club owners and not about whether there is any legal requirement that trumps that.

“The statement from CCFC today is a distraction to a more important issue to which there remains an easy solution. For almost three years Coventry City Council has been saying that it is happy to talk to the football club once all legal proceedings are dropped and our stance has not changed.”

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