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Pitch battle concerns Coventry chief executive as another home game is postponed

The Sky Bet Championship club have been involved in a war of words with their rugby union landlords Wasps.

The Coventry Building Society Arena
The Coventry Building Society Arena

Coventry have had a second Sky Bet Championship game postponed due to the condition of their pitch, with chief executive Dave Boddy calling the situation a “mess”.

The Sky Blues’ home game against Wigan on Tuesday has been postponed by the English Football League due to ongoing issues with the playing surface at the Coventry Building Society Arena.

Last weekend, Coventry’s opening home fixture against Rotherham was postponed, and the Carabao Cup tie with Bristol City was moved to Burton’s Pirelli Stadium.

An EFL statement on the latest postponement read: “The decision follows the commissioning of an independent report by an internationally established group of sports turf experts to fully examine the current condition of the pitch.

“After a full and thorough evaluation, the League has been advised that playing on the surface in its existing state would pose a risk to players and match officials.”

Coventry claim promised investment of a pitch – which hosted 65 rugby sevens matches at the 2022 Commonwealth Games at the end of July – has not materialised.

But Coventry’s landlords, the Gallagher Premiership rugby union side Wasps, say the contract to host Commonwealth Games events was signed before the football club committed to returning to the ground in March 2021.

Wasps also stress the Sky Blues offered no objections when told in May that the pitch would not be relaid ahead of the new season.

Boddy said: “I met with Stephen Vaughan at Wasps/the Arena on Monday and have been in regular contact via email since. To be clear, this is not the fault of the grounds staff.

“Promised investment into a new pitch, which was a fundamental part of the extensive negotiations for the club to return and then again a promise made publicly following the announcement of our return in March 2021, has not happened and there has been no significant refurbishment or repair work over the summer either.

“Our concerns over the quality of the pitch have not been addressed, and we were extremely disappointed to be told in June that Wasps had made the decision not to take any action to put a new surface in.

“We still, despite repeated requests and the high-profile and urgent nature of this situation, await an ‘action plan’ from them to address this major issue, which they promised to implement publicly last Saturday.

“Even if we had been able to have our first three league games scheduled away as requested by Wasps, which wasn’t possible due to the EFL fixture sequencing rules which apply equally to all clubs, it is clear that the pitch still would not have been playable.

“We simply want our landlords Wasps to provide a pitch which is safe and fit for purpose for their tenant, the city’s football club, to play at home.

“It is our supporters who are suffering in this mess, and the players and staff too. These are incredibly difficult circumstances for the football club.”

Wasps Group chief executive Vaughan defended the rugby club’s position in a statement on Tuesday.

He said: “In May we informed CCFC we would not be relaying the pitch. No objection was raised to that course of action then or at any other time.

“We were saddened to see that information and stories have been put out in the press without our prior knowledge, and this message has been relayed to the football club.”

On hosting Commonwealth Games events, Vaughan – who said no new or established pitch could withstand the amount of wear and tear of those three days – added: “They were fully aware of the timetable of events.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – Day One
The Coventry Building Society Arena hosted 65 rugby sevens matches at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Maintaining a pitch with two sports on it is always a challenge, so the recent unique set of circumstances has been particularly difficult and has naturally put the pitch under enormous strain.

“Despite what some may think, we want CCFC to play all their home games here, and it benefits no one when there are issues such as this played out in public with incorrect or missing information.

“We won’t be getting involved in a protracted, public discussion about this, which serves no one’s interest, but felt we needed to ensure people had the correct information.”

Wasps first became Coventry’s landlords when they moved in but bought the ground in December 2014 – shortly after the Sky Blues’ return to the city from 14 months’ exile in Northampton, following a dispute over rent.

A further dispute then led to Coventry playing in Birmingham at St Andrew’s for two seasons, before returning to the city last year.

Coventry manager Mark Robins discussed the situation following his side’s defeat at Millwall on Saturday, saying: “They’ve got to come together and sort it out. It can’t go on, it’s ridiculous. People saying, ‘It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault’. We need a football pitch.

“It’s the stadium that was built for us and we can’t play there. It’s an utter disgrace that we’re at this point in time.”

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