x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

London Wasps stung by owner and finances

Just a year ago the team was enjoying a visit to Abu Dhabi for a friendly match. Now the Wasps face a relegation crisis brought on by the lack of interest in the current owner and failure to find another one.

A year ago in Abu Dhabi, Steve Hayes had high hopes for the London Wasps. Failing to find a foreign partner and the having his new stadium in London blocked from construction have soured him on the team.
A year ago in Abu Dhabi, Steve Hayes had high hopes for the London Wasps. Failing to find a foreign partner and the having his new stadium in London blocked from construction have soured him on the team.

London Wasps' investment-seeking, fact-finding and trail-blazing trip to Abu Dhabi last year seems like a lifetime ago.

This week it was revealed the English Premiership rugby union club urgently need new investors to avoid being plunged into administration, following the collapse of takeover talks. That came after news that Steve Hayes, the club's millionaire owner, was arrested by police investigating computer-hacking. He was released on bail.

Hayes was the driving force behind Wasps becoming the first team to play a competitive UK rugby union match abroad when they slugged it out with Harlequins at Emirates Palace in January 2011.

It was quite a coup as Quins, despite being sponsored by Etihad and having a tie-up with Abu Dhabi Harlequins, felt it was "extremely difficult to put in place, logistically".

Hayes also used the trip to draw inspiration from the Masdar City project and ambitiously sought to build the UK's first carbon-neutral sports stadium. "It will be best stadium complex in Europe, if not the world," Hayes said last year.

Hayes, you suspect, would also have been seeking investment from the UAE so it was no wonder he had a face like thunder at the final whistle after Wasps blew the chance to impress a wealthy onlooker in a 38-13 drubbing. Yet that was nothing like the crushing blow of seeing the plans for the 17,500-capacity stadium blocked in July. Hayes's interest in the club has since waned and the six-times English champions and double European Cup winners now must find alternative investment to avoid administration and relegation from England's top flight.

"The board is disappointed to confirm that negotiations, which had been leading towards an imminent takeover of the club, have stalled," the club said in a statement, while insisting London Wasps Holdings Limited remains "a going concern".

According to a source, Tony Kleanthous, the Barnet FC chairman, was an interested buyer.

Rugby Football Union regulations state that any club which remains in administration beyond six weeks will be docked 22 points, which would see Wasps relegated to the second tier of English rugby.

"London Wasps has a long and successful history, and is one of the best-known brands in the game," said Mark Rigby, the chairman. "With a great squad in place and the excellent Dai Young at the helm, we believe we are set to make a strong effect next season. Time is however short and we urgently need a new investor or consortium to back this belief."

The club sits second bottom in the Aviva Premiership going into this weekend's round of fixtures where they play, yes, Harlequins, whom they have not beaten away from home in five years.

* With agency

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