Coventry City lambasts Wasps’ Ricoh Arena statement

Coventry City Football Club have lashed out at a statement made by Ricoh Arena owners Wasps Group on Friday night claiming that the Sky Blues pulled out of stadium talks is “absolutely disingenuous.”

The fresh row comes after Coventry City announced last week it will stay at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground for the 2020-21 campaign.

The Sky Blues had been in negotiations with landlords Wasps over a potential return to the Ricoh Arena but have not been able to agree a deal.

Coventry chief Dave Boddy hit back at claims made by Wasps that the football club turned their back on a constructive rent offer to play at the stadium.

He added that the signing of an indemnity clause was “absolutely a requirement” during negotiations.

He said: “CCFC had a deadline from the EFL of Monday 20th July at 5pm to inform them where we would be playing our home games for the 20-21 season. This date had been known to Wasps for some weeks. I personally twice told Stephen Vaughan (Wasps CEO) the date and all parties engaged in the process had been sent written confirmation of this deadline from the EFL some weeks ago.

“The principle and concept of an indemnity against Wasps and a third party was absolutely a requirement, and this indemnity would have put the Football Club at substantial risk and jeopardise its very future.”

But in their statement on Friday night, Wasps Group said that they “did not require the football club or its owners to sign any indemnity around legal action over the Ricoh Arena,” and that they firmly believed that they had “made the deal as commercially attractive as possible” for the Sky Blues.

Boddy reacted: “We would be happy to produce correspondence to support all of our claims but unfortunately we are bound by the NDA, which we signed at the start of talks at the insistence of Wasps.”

He added: “Because progress was being made the EFL extended the deadline twice during this week to Friday;   and on that expiry we were instructed by them to confirm where we would play. All parties in the process were well aware of these extensions.

“We were faced with exactly the same problem last season, and were effectively ‘timed out’ by them again.”

Boddy added: “Throughout my three-and-a-half-year career at the club, Wasps have consistently and flagrantly ignored critical deadlines set for us by the EFL and treated them and those deadlines with disrespect. In fact, they only instructed solicitors to act for them on Monday morning when they were well aware of the Monday 5pm deadline.

“It happened regularly when we agreed the one-year extension to our last license for the 2018-19 season. The EFL have been nothing but supportive during the whole period of time I have been at the Club.”

The statement from Wasps Group said: “We are totally surprised and deeply disappointed that the owners of Coventry City have taken this decision when we were very close to reaching commercial agreement on a deal.

“We had held positive and constructive talks with the football club at management level for several months and both sides believed they had a workable arrangement which was good for all and would see Coventry City back at the Ricoh.

“We did not require the football club or its owners to sign any indemnity around legal action over the Ricoh Arena, and firmly believe that we had made the deal as commercially attractive as possible.

“We, like everyone else, believe the football club should be playing its home games in the city that bears its name and its decision to choose to remain in Birmingham is a wasted opportunity on a massive scale.”

Reacting to Coventry’s announcement last week about a deal that will see the University of Warwick provide land for the construction of a new stadium, Wasps said: “The news that CCFC is working in partnership with the University of Warwick to create its own stadium was not communicated to us until after it was released publicly but we continued to endeavour to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion and believed that was the case.

“Sadly Coventry City’ s late decision to withdraw today has brought current negotiations to a close for the foreseeable future. We were not aware the club would be making a statement this evening and will be looking carefully at elements of what they have claimed, and may possibly comment further in the next couple of days.”

The Sky Blues spent the 2019-20 season in Birmingham, playing their home matches at St Andrew’s after failing to strike a deal with Ricoh Arena owners Wasps Group.

Coventry City Council has been in dispute with the club’s owners Sisu after it sold a 250-year leasehold of the Ricoh Arena to Wasps in 2014, with Sisu maintaining the authority had undervalued the stadium by almost £30m when it was sold to Wasps Rugby Club for £21m.

Coventry left Highfield Road in 2005 to move to the Ricoh Arena but after a long-running rent row it spent the 2013-14 season at Northampton Town’s Sixfields.

The Sky Blues returned to the Ricoh in September 2014, followed by Wasps three months later. The part-city council-owned stadium was then sold to the Premiership rugby union club.

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