16th Dec, 2018

Open Letter from Coventry City seeks talks with Wasps and council over Ricoh with club's future at risk - after councillors' pledge

Les Reid 6th Dec, 2018 Updated: 7th Dec, 2018

COVENTRY City Football Club has today openly ‘extended its offer’ to Coventry council leaders and Ricoh Arena landlords Wasps to enter talks to help secure the club’s future after this season.

In an Open Letter, the club has also reminded council leaders of their commitment in October 2014 that they were only selling the Ricoh Arena to London Wasps rugby club on the condition that Coventry City and Coventry rugby club’s future would be secured.

Rugby club Wasps are refusing to come to the table to discuss arrangements for after the Sky Blues’ current tenancy deal expires at the end of this season – placing the club’s future at risk.

Wasps are blaming ongoing court appeals by City’s hedge fund owners Sisu concerning the terms of the council’s Ricoh Arena sale to then London Wasps in 2014.

The 250-year deal financially disadvantaged the city’s traditional football club – including over crucial commercial revenues at the stadium built for it.

Last week, a Coventry Observer Editor’s Comment called on all sides to enter talks now to end the dispute – and find a fairer deal for the football club at the Ricoh, with still no sign that Sisu will sell up.

The Open Letter challenges councillors including council leader George Duggins over his statement this week that the council’s 2014 commitment to secure the club’s future from the Ricoh Arena sale had now expired.

Coun Duggins now claims it only ever related to the Sky Blues’ tenancy arrangements over four years.

The Coventry Observer has several times since 2014 challenged Coventry council leaders over its previous commitment to secure Coventry City’s future from the Ricoh deal. That commitment was outlined in minutes from the crucial council meeting on October 7, 2014, and quotes to the media by leading council figures at the time.

The Open Letter states…

“.. The club believes that it is vital to engage all parties – regardless of whether they are public or private organisations – in order to come to a positive resolution.

If the current position is not resolved and the football club has no stadium to fulfil its fixtures then the outcome will be inevitable and the impact on the local community of the loss of the football club will be devastating.

.. Whilst we welcome both Coventry City Council and Wasps confirming publicly that the issue of not agreeing a deal is due to legal actions taken by the club ownership and not an issue with the club per se, we feel it is critical to point to the fact that the consequence of not reaching a resolution will be permanent and irreversible: The loss of our football club.

In considering whether there will be a future for Coventry City then the club feels duty bound to point to a passage from Coventry City Council’s minutes (attached) of Tuesday 7th October 2014 which states:

“The commitment that any deal relating to the Ricoh Arena would not be approved unless the following three tests were satisfied:

1. A good deal for the City

2. The security and future of Coventry City Football Club

3. The security and future of Coventry Rugby Club”

It was appropriate and correct for the leader of Coventry City Council (then Ann Lucas) to put forward these requirements at the time of selling the Ricoh Arena to Wasps. The council’s covenant of commitment to Coventry City Football Club was designed to reassure fans. Indeed, the leader also subsequently stated on the same day: “Let me be clear, any deal around the future of the Ricoh Arena must not happen if it threatens the future of the Sky Blues or Coventry Rugby Club.”

The council’s covenant was reiterated on the 8th October: “This deal would not have happened if it threatened the future of the Sky Blues or Coventry Rugby Club.” Once again, reassuring Sky Blues fans.

However, the future of Coventry City Football Club is now under threat.

At the time of announcing the deal with Wasps, the council failed to minute or present to Coventry City fans, Coventrians and the media that the council’s covenant to secure the future of the City’s then 131 year old football club would have an expiry date and time limit of just four years…

The council point to a ‘No deal’ outcome being a “direct consequence” of legal action by the football club owners.

What is being painted is a false choice – it does not have to be a case of the owners dropping the legal action or there is no deal, and it is not a case of “cannot enter discussions”.

In previous years a deal has been achieved by the football club whilst the owners pursued legal action and that CAN be the case again.

Regardless of the current situation between football club owners, stadium landlord and council, the club would like to extend an offer to meet with the landlord and the council with the intention to resolve the issue of the football club having nowhere to fulfil its fixtures from the beginning of next season.

The club will engage in a constructive and positive manner – with the single aim of saving our football club. The club entirely agrees with our landlord Wasps wanting to move the situation forward for the good of Coventry City, its supporters, the Ricoh Arena and the City as a whole. The club looks forward to continuing to work together, based on the excellent day-to-day operational relationship we already enjoy.

Equally, we extend an invitation to Coventry City Council to sit and hold constructive discussions to understand how the council might help resolve the situation for the good of everyone involved. It would be an unmitigated disaster if the club was to fold and disappear in the very year that Coventry holds the title of being the City of Sport. We will work together with the council to ensure that this does not happen.

The club is ready to sit at the negotiating table – we want to do a deal. A deal that preserves the football club. It is now time for all parties to work together for the good of Coventry City Football Club, its supporters and our community.

COUNCIL STATEMENT…

Joint statement from Cllr George Duggins, Leader of Coventry City Council and Cllr Gary Ridley, Leader of the Opposition Conservative Party, Coventry City Council:

“In 2014 when the Ricoh Arena was sold, it was well-publicised that Coventry City Football Club (CCFC) and its owners believed it would be moving at the end of its existing lease to a new stadium it intended to build. This was the reason why Coventry City Council ensured the existing tenancy was honoured as part of any sale to Wasps. No organisation can guarantee a future tenancy at a development they no longer own.

“The fact that CCFC is now struggling to have a confirmed ground to play in from next season cannot be the responsibility of Coventry City Council, particularly when this is a direct consequence of the owners of CCFC deciding to continue with their litigation to which the football club is very clearly a party. Whilst we can respect their right to pursue legal proceedings, we cannot be held responsible for the implications of them doing so.

“There remains an easy solution to all of this which has been clearly outlined by Wasps since extending the football club’s license to play at the Ricoh Arena in February this year – that talks could start as soon as all legal proceedings are dropped. That is entirely in the gift of the owners of CCFC.”

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