COVENTRY City has this evening issued a statement in response to Wasps yesterday breaking the silence over stalling talks about extending the club’s tenancy at the Ricoh Arena – with time ticking before a May 29 English Football League deadline.
As we reported, Wasps returned to public threats to lock out Coventry City from the stadium built for it – unless the stadium’s rugby club owners are protected from a complaint by the football club’s owners Sisu to the European Commission. It concerns Coventry City Council’s deal to sell the Ricoh to Wasps in 2014, the subject of prior legal action upon which Wasps had refused to enter talks.
Tonight’s statement on CCFC’s website reads: “There is no European Commission complaint against Wasps. The complaint, made by our Owners SISU in February, is against Coventry City Council only.
“In mid-April, SISU signed an undertaking to irrevocably cease all proceedings against Wasps relating to the sale and lease of the Ricoh Arena, in order to allow talks about extending our agreement at the Ricoh Arena to take place.
“Wasps stated their position publicly yesterday, reiterating their previous opposition to legal action and now adding their opposition to any other action around the sale of the stadium in 2014, and their opinions surrounding the EU complaint.
“Nick Eastwood (of Wasps) said yesterday: ‘Regrettably, this means that the condition set out above for us to enter or continue discussions with CCFC has not been met.’
”The condition referenced yesterday by Nick has not been broken, but instead yet more onerous and undeliverable conditions have been added by Wasps to their pre-existing conditions to enter talks.
“Last Friday in our update to fans, we spoke of ‘hurdles’ and this is one of those hurdles that we alluded to. As a result, we are unfortunately accelerating our back-up groundshare plans.
“Further details of discussions with Wasps Holdings Limited remain confidential, due to mutually signed confidentiality agreements.”
Alternative potential groundshares – not wanted by the club – have been rumoured to include Birmingham City and the Butts Park Arena.
The Sisu related companies’ case – dismissed by domestic judges including the Supreme Court last month – is that the council deal broke European ‘state aid’ laws designed to prevent unfair market competition. The case is that it did so by shortchanging public taxpayers with an undervalue stadium sale on a 250-year lease term totalling around £20million (including buying out a £14.4million loan) not offered to the football club amid a protracted dispute.
The legal action had included claims Wasps – already £55million in debt – should pay back £28million to the council.
Should it ever be established that the deal was indeed a ‘state aid’ – despite rejection of that case by some of the UK’s top judges – it might arguably pave the way for separate compensation claims affecting the council and Wasps by parties damaged by the state aid.