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

Elite Ice Hockey League season cancelled, NIHL set for Spring Cup return

The 2020/21 Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) season was cancelled after league bosses “heard the full details” of the government’s Winter Survival Package.

“Yesterday, we heard the full details of the Government Winter Survival package for the English Elite League teams,” an EIHL statement read. “It was to begin season 2020/21 with no fans and government support only in the form of loans.

“To start on that basis would threaten the very future of professional ice hockey in the United Kingdom.”

The Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils, Dundee Stars, Fife Flyers, and Glasgow Clan have received financial support from devolved bodies “which is focused on helping them survive” the pandemic.

The Elite League’s focus is to ensure the successful launch of season 2021/22

– Elite Ice Hockey League

The Elite League’s five English clubs, including the Coventry Blaze, are in talks with Sport England regarding the distribution of a similar package.

The statement concluded: “The Elite League’s focus is to ensure the successful launch of season 2021/22, currently scheduled to begin in September, building on the record attendances of season 2019/20 and cementing our position as the #1 attended indoor team sport in the United Kingdom.”

As reported last year, the EIHL “look[ed] into a January return” when the Winter Survival Package was unveiled in November.

The top-flight was “initially allocated” £4 million as part of the Westminster fund. At the time, it was unclear how government funds would be administered to applicants.

Meanwhile, the second division of ice hockey in England will return this month. Five National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) teams are set to take part in a Spring Cup during February and March.

Streaming Series participants, the Sheffield Steeldogs and Swindon Wildcats, will compete against the (Romford) Raiders, (Bracknell) Bees, and Telford Tigers.

Spring Cup fixtures will be played behind-closed-doors and broadcast to spectators at home. Each team will play 12 games over seven weekends.

Following the Spring Cup, phase two of the NIHL’s return to play strategy will give all ten National Division clubs the chance to participate in a two-month league competition.

It will provide a real boost to the mental health of players, coaches, and fans

– National Ice Hockey League

“In developing this series, we have been heavily focused on safety, and our role as an Elite Sport during the current national lockdown,” an NIHL statement read. “At all times teams will comply with government regulations and the return to play rules from the EIHA.

“All in all, we are now at a key moment for NIHL National teams returning to the ice.

“If we are able to do this, it will provide a real boost to the mental health of players, coaches, staff and fans, and be another step towards the survival and wider return of our sport as the benefit of Covid vaccinations is seen across the country.”

It has been a strange week for British ice hockey. The country’s top-flight season was cancelled on Tuesday afternoon. Hours later, the second-tier unveiled its return to play strategy.

Outside of the Premier League, sporting organisations across the UK have suffered through the pandemic. The Elite League has been on hold since March, grimacing as many of its European counterparts returned in the final months of 2020.

The much-touted Winter Survival Package was announced in mid-November; the reaction from the UK’s ice hockey chiefs was buoyant. Since then, an almighty row has erupted across the British sporting landscape between governing bodies and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

The government offered loans instead

Many applicants to the Whitehall scheme believed that at least a proportion of funding would be provided as grants. That didn’t transpire: the government offered loans instead.

That’s why EIHL bosses elected to pull the plug on 2020/21.

In football, a similar discussion is taking place in the National League. Clubs were assured that they would receive grants for as long as their fixtures had to be played behind-closed-doors. Teams aren’t willing to take on government loans; so, the National League’s half-finished season might be voided.

If grants had been on offer, the Elite League’s decision might have been different.

Either way, the NIHL returns this month; it deserves our support.


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