17th Sep, 2019

Wasps boss claims Coventry City fans get their side as club faces Ricoh lock-out, and we question him

Les Reid 28th Mar, 2019 Updated: 29th Mar, 2019

RUGBY club Wasps’ boss has claimed football fans understand their side in the Ricoh Arena dispute while threatening to lock out the 136-year-old Coventry City – under questioning by the Coventry Observer.

Nick Eastwood, chief executive of Wasps Group, whose latest accounts on their website (up to December last year) reveal ongoing total debts of around £55million with £35million bond debt repayments due in 2022, said: “We don’t believe we are able to enter negotiations with an organisation engaging in legal action of this nature. We are sure that people – whether fans of rugby, football, both or neither – understand that.”

He refused to explain to us – for the second time this month – how refusing to talk over extending the Sky Blues’ tenancy after this season would have any bearing on Coventry City’s owners Sisu continuing their litigation against Coventry City Council’s 2014 Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps. We pointed out Sisu’s legal action – which seeks indebted Wasps to pay £28million to the council – was likely to continue if the club is shut out of the Ricoh from next month.

Despite Mr Eastwood’s claims, a large groundswell of opinion expressed daily by Coventry City fans on social media and elsewhere is that they just want Coventry City to continue at the Ricoh Arena next season – and that ALL sides must take responsibility for what has been a seven-year multi-party dispute over Ricoh revenues and ownership.

Some Coventry City fans, including those pushing the so far failed ‘Sisu out’ campaign, have backed Wasps’ insistence that Sisu must first drop legal action before any talks about Coventry City remaining as Ricoh tenants. That position is advocated by Ricoh Arena freehold owners Coventry City Council leader, Councillor George Duggins.

Even the anti-Sisu Sky Blue Trust – which has for years tried and failed to back a club takeover with ‘fans’ involvement – is now calling on ALL sides to sort out the mess and keep Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena next season, at least in its latest public statements.

Mr Eastwood’s claim came in a written response to our repeated questions this week.

Our questions initially asked Wasps to make clear precisely what they were “permanently” demanding from Sisu as a pre-condition for talks – and on what basis – given they are refusing to taking part in talks with Coventry City aimed at reaching a resolution as an END point.

Coventry City face a vote on expulsion from the English Football League on April 25 if they cannot play at the Ricoh from next season, as they want, or find an enforced groundshare with another club outside the city.

OUR QUESTIONS..

1. Could Wasps please state in its own written words precisely what it is requesting of Sisu and the Coventry City group of companies?

2. Does it agree that it would be extremely unusual and probably unethical to be demanding that any contractual arrangement is contingent on the permanent waiver of the other sides’ legal rights with regard to any potential future scenario?

3. Does Wasps understand that the other side is simply not going to agree to such a wide-ranging request (as improbable as the other side dropping the legal action against the council’s 2014 Ricoh Arena deal with Wasps)?

4. Does it understand that the inevitable result will be that Wasps will be considered by very many people inside and outside the city of Coventry, now and in history, to be one of the key parties responsible for Coventry City Football Club’s demise and exile from the city where it has been for 136 years?

5. Is Wasps still taking part in any negotiations or discussions following the meeting with Jeremy Wright MP? If not, why not?

6. To repeat our question earlier this month, why would the litigation be affected in any material way if Wasps allowed the football club to remain as a tenant at the Ricoh Arena?

WASPS RESPONSE…

“It has been extremely well-documented how this stage has been reached and we have been consistent and clear about what needs to happen for us to open talks with Coventry City.

“We are happy to talk to the club about extending their ground-sharing arrangements at the Ricoh Arena – an outcome which is favoured by all parties – but on the condition that the club’s owners permanently and unconditionally cease their legal action in relation to the purchase of the Ricoh Arena. We are not asking for the “permanent waiver of the other sides’ legal rights” as that would be unreasonable and, we understand, unenforceable; the condition is in relation to the purchase of the Ricoh Arena and the current, long-running, legal action.

“We don’t believe we are able to enter negotiations with an organisation engaging in legal action of this nature. We are sure that people – whether fans of rugby, football, both or neither – understand that.

“Last year we gave the club and its owners the time to consider their options and find a solution – one alternative was to drop their legal action and negotiate an agreement at the Ricoh, something they have chosen not to do. We hope they will agree to cease their current legal action, for the good of the club, its supporters and the city of Coventry.

“We agreed at the Westminster meeting that the discussions at the meeting were strictly private and confidential so we cannot comment on the outcomes of the session.”

OUR FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS..

1. Is Nick Eastwood aware that public opinion as expressed on social media for months and years – from overwhelming evidence – is not as he has assumed here?

2. In light of the above, could he please now answer my previous final question in the public interest. To repeat it..

To repeat our question earlier this month, why would the litigation be affected in any material way if Wasps allowed the football club to remain as a tenant at the Ricoh Arena?

3. Does Nick Eastwood understand that in all walks of life – from family to international disputes – protracted disputes are only settled through negotiations with action set aside as an END point, not through a pre-condition that one side must first cave in?

WASPS FURTHER RESPONSE was that it had “no further comment” as it was “happy with its response”.

OUR QUESTIONS TO SISU AND ALL SIDES

The Coventry Observer has repeatedly in recent months put questions to all sides in the Ricoh Arena dispute – Wasps, Sisu and Coventry City Council, its leader George Duggins and opposition leader Councillor Gary Ridley.

Our questions to Sisu have included..

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?

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

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

A response to media questions eventually came in Sisu’s Open Letter this month.

It included Sisu saying it would drop the legals in return for council assistance towards a new stadium for the long-term and a “commercial acceptable” medium-term arrangement at the Ricoh Arena.

We have put the following further question this week to Sisu, after Coun Duggins refused to turn up for important Westminster talks involving digital culture, media and sport secretary Jeremy Wright MP.

Will you reconsider your position for the good of the club, with the council and Wasps so far sticking to their position?

Can you state where you intend to groundshare from next season if Wasps (supported by freehold owner Coventry City Council) lock you out?

Council leader George Duggins has explained his position in several of our stories, including here and here.

Wasps earlier this month denied misleading the public when claiming keeping Coventry City at the Ricoh would expose the Wasps business to more risk.

Our Freedom of Information request also sought evidence for Coun Duggins’ recent apparently restrospective claims that public commitments in 2014 made by the council to protect the “security and future” of Coventry City Football Club and Coventry rugby club as a condition of the Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps were actually limited to four years. We await the outcome of our request for a review of the council’s FoI response to us.

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