Image: The Boar / Luke James
Image: The Boar / Luke James

Elite League ‘looking at dates for a January start’, Tony Smith

The Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) has confirmed that it actively exploring the prospect of starting the 2020/21 season next month. The news comes after it emerged that the competition’s Sport England funding was tied to the competition’s return to play.

Last week, it was announced that £4 million would be provided to the Elite League by the government to support it through the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding, administered as a mixture of loans and grants by Sport England, can only be used to support the EIHL’s five English clubs. The five remaining teams are waiting to receive confirmation from the devolved assemblies regarding their winter support package.

Things have moved fast since the UK government’s initial announcement

– Tony Smith

On Friday, league chairman Tony Smith explained that the EIHL is “looking at dates for a January start as this is part of the requirement for the funding.”

“Obviously,” Smith continued, “we still have to be cautious and can’t promise anything concrete, as a lot of our planning depends entirely on dealing with different agencies across the UK, but we are drawing up plans about how we could get back on the ice playing competitive games at the beginning of 2021.

“With Great Britain in the elite group of the World Championships, we are time-limited regarding how long we can play until before we need to release national team players for the tournament. Realistically, knowing we need to finish in April means starting as soon as we can to schedule in enough games. He concluded:

“Things have moved fast since the UK government’s initial announcement, and we need them to keep doing so over the next fortnight to make sure that we have as long to play as possible.”

The Boar Sport understands that the league is open to a behind-closed-doors return, with four of the league’s five English clubs set to be placed in the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions on 2 December.


Ultimately, this is good news for ice hockey in the United Kingdom.

The league has confirmed that the Cardiff Devils, Fife Flyers, Glasgow Clan, Dundee Stars, and Belfast Giants are due to receive funding from the relevant authority. Clubs aren’t being excluded from government support, they will just have to wait for Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish administrations to act.

A January return to play was first mooted in the summer, when coronavirus figures were low, and we believed that Christmas could be somewhat normal.

Evidently, that scenario hasn’t come to the fore – but government funding has changed the maths on this. The Sport England package isn’t designed to allow the league to mothball until next year. It has to be spent on the 2020/21 season.

Things are moving quickly at EIHL HQ, which is a good sign in itself.

There is, however, a catch. January is just four weeks away and the Brexit transition period ends on New Year’s Eve. Elite League clubs will face a scramble to complete their rosters before the start of a new campaign. The task is huge, will British ice hockey rise to the challenge?

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