COVENTRY City say they are still seeking further information on whether they can retain their ‘lifeblood’ youth academy and its prized elite status if rugby club Wasps move in to its Coventry base.
Sky Blues managing director Chris Anderson said they are still awaiting clarity from parties including the Coventry Sports Foundation (CSF), which operates the purpose-built academy building at the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way, where Coventry City Council holds the freehold.
He also continued to call on the council to do more to support the 133-year-old club which bears its name, and its academy.
He told a recent Coventry City Supporters’ Consultative Group (SCG) meeting the club had been ‘served notice’ to move out by June 30 next year when its current lease expires, despite fans’ protests.
The Observer’s Save Our City campaign is calling on the council and the city’s sporting institutions including CSF to do more to ensure the club retains a viable presence in Coventry, amid the club’s and fans’ concerns it is being squeezed out in favour of rugby and Wasps, following a long running dispute with the club’s owners Sisu.
Wasps last month submitted to the council a planning application to move its training facilities into the centre, having obtained the Ricoh Arena in 2014 from the council and Higgs charity on a massively extended 250-year deal not offered to Sky Blues for which the stadium was built.
It also follows revelations from a leaked council email in January which proposed blocking any prospect of the club moving to an expanded Butts Park Arena home of Coventry Rugby Football Club, a proposal which aimed to enable both traditional Coventry sporting clubs to access more vital revenues from commercial stadium activities.
Coventry City fans’ organisations – including the SCG and Sky Blue Trust – are protesting against the potential loss of the youth academy. A Sky Blue Trust petition has now been signed by nearly 1,300 people.
Wasps publicly stated last month the Sky Blues could use its new ‘kicking barn’ at the Higgs centre, assuming it will be granted planning permission.
But Mr Anderson has outlined how quality outdoor and indoor pitches and other facilities are required if the Sky Blues are to retain their ‘Category 2’ academy excellence status. It provides crucial income streams to develop the city’s elite young footballing talent and stars such as Callum Wilson and James Maddison.
The council has also publicly supported plans for a new 50 metre swimming pool on the site of the indoor pitch at the Alan Higgs Centre.
In the SCG meeting minutes now published on the club’s website, Mr Anderson said the club have “shared their requirements for having a Category 2 Academy with CSF in order to determine if it is feasible to have a Category 2 academy at the Higgs Centre beyond 2017.
“So far, CSF have been unable to confirm whether those requirements can be met with Wasps moving in. We continue in our attempts to understand the potential of sharing the site. Further detailed exploration is needed and has been proposed to CSF.”
Mr Anderson added: “Our Plan A is to play in Coventry and for our academy to train in Coventry. We want to ensure Plan A is completely exhausted and deemed totally not feasible before publicly speaking about any alternatives.
“The council have the ultimate power in terms of their ability to influence various parties, so have the most influence on the club training and playing in Coventry.
“Any plan that is to occur in Coventry will stand a greater chance of success if supported by them. We need for the council to make it easier, not harder, for the football club to operate in Coventry.”
Asked whether he would sit down with CSF and Wasps to discuss future academy arrangements, he replied: “There is a strict set of technical requirements we have to fulfil to retain our Category 2 status, which are non-negotiable – not from our end, but as far as the Premier League are concerned in order to fulfill the upcoming audit by the football authorities.
“It’s not simply a matter of finding some pitches to play on and negotiating the use of pitches.
“.. There is no negotiation to be had with other parties around a table because the football club doesn’t have a choice to either comply or not comply with those technical requirements, which have been communicated to CSF.
“… The first step has to be to establish if they can offer what we need; they have yet to confirm if they can if the Wasps move in.”
He added: “Building an academy training ground somewhere else in Coventry seems unlikely as there are no obvious sites.”