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State aid complaint to Brussels sees stadium row rumble on

Coventry City Football Club’s owner has made a complaint to the European Commission that the city council’s sale of the Ricoh Arena to Wasps rugby club breached state aid rules.

The latest twist in the convoluted saga of litigation has seen Wasps break off talks about whether Coventry City can play at the ground for the next season or will have to find a ground sharing arrangement elsewhere.

Investment firm Sisu, which owns the club, has complained that the council sold the arena to Wasps at less than its true value, thus constituting unlawful state aid.

The Supreme Court last month refused companies related to Sisu permission to appeal in a dispute over the arena sale after it had lost earlier cases.

Wasps chief executive Nick Eastwood said the club was happy to talk to Coventry City about the club continuing to play at Ricoh “once the club's owners had agreed to cease all legal action or proceedings surrounding our acquisition and ownership of the Ricoh Arena”.

Eastwood said Wasps engaged in talks on that basis but “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.”

He said this meant Wasps’ condition for the talks had not been met and “the ball is therefore back in the court of CCFC's owners”.

A Coventry City statement said the complaint by Sisu to the European Commission was against Coventry City Council, not Wasps, as in mid-April Sisu had signed an undertaking to irrevocably cease all proceedings against Wasps relating to the sale and lease of the Ricoh Arena.

It said: “Wasps stated their position publicly yesterday, reiterating their previous opposition to legal action and now adding their opposition to any other action around the sale of the stadium in 2014, and their opinions surrounding the EU complaint.”

The club said that Wasps’ condition about litigation ceasing prior to talks about the football club’s future home had not been broken “but instead yet more onerous and undeliverable conditions have been added by Wasps to their pre-existing conditions to enter talks”.

Coventry City said it would accelerate plans to find a ground share for next season.

The council has been approached for comment.

Mark Smulian

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