22nd Feb, 2020

More than 350 Coventry City fans call today on Wasps to drop 'indemnity' demand and return club to city

Les Reid 21st Jan, 2020 Updated: 21st Jan, 2020

A GROUP of more than 350 Coventry City fans has today called on rugby club Wasps to drop its previous demands for the football club to protect it from any potential multi-million pound losses – as a condition for playing as tenants at the Ricoh Arena.

It says Wasps’ reported insistence that City must ‘indemnify’ it against any such losses flowing from a complaint about Coventry City Council to the European Commission could bankrupt the club.

The group of fans is also calling for more challenge to misleading claims by the stadium’s owners Wasps, while urging all sides to return the historic football club to Coventry.

The intervention in a press release from 371 members of the long-established internet fans’ forum Sky Blues Talk comes after City’s chief executive Dave Boddy – in recent matchday programme notes – forecast that Mark Robins’ League One promotion contenders were likely to continue playing home matches at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground for at least the remainder of the 2019/20 season.

The move to Birmingham – which the Coventry Observer first revealed in June last year – came after months of wrangling last year between Wasps as the Ricoh Arena’s owners and Coventry City over renewing tenancy agreements. The football club had repeatedly stated they wanted to stay at the stadium built by and for it.

City’s owners Sisu had said it had committed in talks to dropping legal action concerning Coventry City Council’s controversial deal to sell the stadium to then London Wasps in 2014, and a commercial rental agreement had been struck.

But later in the ‘talks’ it emerged Sisu had filed a complaint last February to the European Commission that the shadowy 250-year lease deal – not offered to the football club amid the legal dispute that began in 2012 – was an unlawful ‘state aid’ misuse of taxpayers’ money under European laws design to ensure fair market competition.

This country’s courts has thrown out the case, in which Sisu had requested Wasps – already £55million in debt – pay around £30million back to the council in compensation. The council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity’s Ricoh sale package was for circa £20million in total (£5.5million for the Arena Coventry Limited shares, plus around £14million to pay off the council’s secretive 2013 taxpayer loan to the Ricoh Arena company).

The complaint is still with the EC for potential investigation without any clear timescale and, as we have reported, cannot be withdrawn or ‘dropped’ by Sisu.

The Coventry Observer last June revealed Wasps had insisted on the football club and Sisu indemnifying them against any losses that may flow from the EC complaint about Coventry City Council’s actions and its use of taxpayers’ money.

The football club said at the time it could not possibly agree to such conditions which could bankrupt the club – were it to agree to pay any such Wasps losses in future.

Yet before Christmas, Wasps Holdings Limited director and company secretary Nick Eastwood told BBC Midlands Today, in comments also picked up by other local media, that Wasps wanted the football club to return if they dropped legal action.

Sky Blues Talk members and others have pointed out there is no such “legal action” – while the EC complaint cannot simply be “dropped”.

It is calling on the media when reporting such Wasps claims to do more to challenge. It also calls for more balanced campaigning from one fans group, The Sky Blue Trust, which has long waged a campaign against Sisu in favour of failed repeat takeover attempts, with supposed part ‘fans’ ownership’.

All sides in the dispute have indicated nothing has changed since last June. They also say they are bound by non-disclosure agreement they signed, to keep terms confidential.

George Duggins, the leader of Coventry City Council – which remains freehold owners of the Ricoh Arena and is politically invested with Wasps and the entire Ricoh Arena ‘North Coventry regeneration project’ – was also reported locally in a ‘new year’s message’ as saying: “It is for the football club to make an approach to Wasps to come back.” He also continued to blame Sisu for slow ‘discussions’ regarding potential sites for an alleged new stadium in Coventry in the medium to long-term.

The Sky Blues Talk press release also calls on the media to do more to hold private and public bodies such as the council to account.

Some other fans are concerned about the Ricoh Arena pitch, if there is to be an unlikely imminent return. A recent video on social media shows a section of a recently laid pitch being pulled up like a carpet. Robins said several times last season the Ricoh pitch was affecting his footballing team’s performance.

Coventry City have long complained that poor terms in the Ricoh tenancy have deprived them of fair matchday and commercial 24/7 revenues to support the team. Sisu denies claims it had missed opportunities to buy a stake in the stadium.

The Coventry Observer has for years during the dispute called in our Save Our City campaign for a fairer stadium and academy deal for Coventry City.

We are raising more questions with all sides.

Wasps said today they did not wish to comment.

The Sky Blues Talk members’ press release in full…

“Statement on behalf of the Sky Blues Talk online forum.

Sky Blues Talk is a forum of 7500 members; it is the oldest and one of the largest online Coventry City Football Club (CCFC) fan communities. 371 members responded to a recent survey, with 98.4% confirming that they fully support this statement.

We, as members of Sky Blues Talk, would like to express our disappointment and frustration with all parties who have contributed to Coventry City playing its home games outside the city that bears its name.

We call upon Wasps RFC to drop any request that CCFC (or its owners) indemnify Wasps against potential or actual costs and losses incurred by them as a result of the State Aid case currently being considered by the European Commission. If the European Commission decides that the sale of the Ricoh Arena to Wasps contravenes State Aid regulations, then this will have been through no fault of CCFC; if CCFC were to agree to indemnify Wasps, the size of any likely financial settlement would in all likelihood bankrupt the club we all love so much.

Equally, we call upon Sisu as owners of CCFC to recommit to halting all legal action surrounding the sale of the Ricoh Arena, as it did prior to last year’s talks regarding playing home games at the Ricoh Arena for the 2019-2020 season. Any continued legal action by Sisu is a roadblock to repairing the relationships required to find CCFC a home in Coventry, either temporarily at the Ricoh Arena or if necessary, in any new stadium (which will obviously require support of the city).

We are very disappointed in the recent press release (dated 15th January 2020) from the Sky Blue Trust. The bewildering absence of any mention of the request by Wasps for financial indemnity by CCFC leaves many members of our community wondering if the Sky Blue Trust can legitimately claim to represent CCFC supporters’ interests in an unbiased manner.

We need to be back playing our home games in Coventry. Staying away is playing Russian roulette with our future and our existence

We acknowledge that our fans have different opinions on whether to travel to St Andrews this season and we hold no grudge against any fan attending or not attending. It is a personal choice for every individual.

We would like to praise Mark Robins and the CCFC squad for continuing the hard job of rebuilding the playing side of the club and turning us into an attractive winning team deserving of a far wider match day audience than has yet been seen in Birmingham.

Finally, we plead with all elements of the media to challenge misleading claims and hold private and public bodies to account to ensure they actively pursue a resolution to the current impasse, and to help facilitate a move back to Coventry without delay.”

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