WASPS have returned to threats to kick out Coventry City from the Ricoh Arena ground built for it amid confidential talks – unless its owner protects the rugby club from any potential damages resulting from a complaint to the European Commission.
We had learned a two-year deal for Coventry City to continue at the Wasps-owned Ricoh Arena was agreed between the two parties – as publicly disclosed by Sky News today.
But the approach to the European Commission – first lodged by CCFC owners Sisu early this year – has become a stumbling block in the until-now secret talks.
While the Coventry Observer has respected the confidentiality of talks, Wasps have issued a statement this afternoon in response to media speculation that Sisu was continuing with legal action, including in a BBC Coventry and Warwickshire report.
The action is described as a Complaint to the EC, not litigation or legal action, and we understand an EC investigation has been triggered.
It is not yet clear what powers, if any, Sisu has to halt the EC investigation now. We understand Wasps is seeking protection from Sisu from any possible related damages.
The complaint to the EC department concerned with European laws designed to ensure fair market competition concerns Coventry City Council’s 2014 Ricoh Arena sale to then London Wasps on a 250-year deal not offered to the football club.
Sisu companies claim the deal was a ‘state aid’ using public taxpayers’ money which prevented fair market competition. Senior judges in domestic courts have repeatedly dismissed this claim, which could have seen Wasps, already £55million in debt, having to pay back £28million to the council.
We have repeatedly challenged long leaseholder Wasps and the stadium freehold owner Coventry City Council over their previous refusal to talk unless the legal action was dropped. We pointed out the action could continue whether or not Coventry City remain at the Ricoh Arena. Talks began after the Supreme Court last month rejected Sisu companies’ appeal for a a judicial review.
Wasps’ statement today reads: “Nick Eastwood, chief executive of Wasps Group, said: “As everyone knows, we have consistently maintained over a long period of time that we were happy to sit down with Coventry City to reach agreement over their future at the Ricoh Arena, once the club’s owners had agreed to cease all legal action or proceedings surrounding our acquisition and ownership of the Ricoh Arena.
“As reported by both parties recently, we entered such discussions in good faith, based on that principle.
“However, we have now been made aware of this complaint to the EU Commission and understand that it was filed in February, well before the discussions set out above were commenced. We further understand that the basis of the complaint to the EU is very similar in all matters of substance to the recent court actions, questions those court decisions and seeks remedial action. Regrettably, this means that the condition set out above for us to enter or continue discussions with CCFC has not been met. The ball is therefore back in the court of CCFC’s owners.
“We believe it is in everyone’s interest that Coventry City play their home games at the Ricoh Arena, and we would urge the owners of Coventry City to take steps to make that happen.”
Coventry City issued the following statement earlier today: “Coventry City Football Club has no comment to make at this time regarding media reports overnight.
“Talks continue with Wasps Holdings Limited regarding extending our tenancy at the Ricoh Arena.”
The club had hoped for an early resolution ahead of a rescheduled meeting of the English Football League on May 29.
It could involve member clubs voting on whether to expel the club from the league if it has nowhere to play.
The club said three weeks ago it was looking for a deal quickly as it only had a limited timescale on an alternative groundshare option – at an undisclosed location – although there has been speculation over the Butts Park Arena and Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground.
The club’s tenancy to play at the Ricoh only extended to the end of the season just finished, amid the multi-party dispute.