Coronavirus and the Elite League: The big questions

It’s been two weeks since the Elite League outlined a roadmap with a view to starting next season, an announcement that has whetted the appetite for action-starved fans.

But with coronavirus still rife across the globe, nothing has been said to detail exactly how the EIHL hopes to achieve this, with so many factors to consider.

At the time of writing, Spain was locking down because of a second wave, other countries have seen their figures spike, while there were still deaths in three figures in England on a daily basis.

Sport has returned in some capacity, with major competitions playing in front of empty stadiums and arenas and a rigorous procedure in place to ensure the safety of anyone involved, from players, to coaches to stadium or arena staff.

Now, the league have been on record and ruled out the possibility of playing in empty arenas and rinks.  The cost is too great and makes perfect sense in their reluctance to do so.

If there is to be a resumption in November/December, as has been outlined, there are questions to be answered before we can all feel safe about returning to our rinks again.

WHAT TESTING MEASURES WILL BE PUT IN PLACE IN THE EVENT THAT THE ELITE LEAGUE CAN BEGIN?

We’ve seen twice weekly updates from the Premier League up to the end of the season about testing and acting appropriately if a player shows symptoms of the disease.

Will the Elite League go down the same road if they decide to go ahead in the timeline they are working to?  With reports of a test, singular, costing £150, it’s going to be costly, but necessary to ensure safety among everyone involved.

Will the EIHL invest in COVID testing kits?

Is this something the EIHL will invest in or are they hopeful by the time the season is proposed to start, it won’t be needed or as needed?  If so, are they willing to gamble on that given the severity of this pandemic?

IS THERE ANY PLANNING IN PLACE SHOULD THERE BE A SECOND WAVE OF CORONAVIRUS IN THE UK?

The season ended so abruptly in March that all ten clubs had to scramble to get their import players back home a month earlier than expected, to some expense.

If a new campaign begins, would the clubs prepare themselves accordingly if there is another wave of the disease that means players would need to vacate the country quickly again?

This would need to be factored in when it comes to the signing of players, not to mention any possible complications in bringing the players over in the first place because of the worldwide shutdown.

WHAT WOULD THE PROCEDURE BE IF A PLAYER, COACHING OR EQUIPMENT STAFF MEMBER TESTED POSITIVE OR SHOWED SYMPTOMS?

The league shut down in March when it was revealed players from Belfast and Dundee had reported symptoms of the disease and there was agreement it was the correct decision.

So, if someone shows symptoms if and when we can get started again, what measures would be put in place to protect those not immediately infected?

All it would take is one person showing any symptoms and how that individual case is handled to know just how well the Elite League is prepared.

HAVE THE CLUBS ENGAGED WITH THEIR ARENA OR RINK MANAGEMENT TO DISCUSS AND PLAN FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING, IF MEASURES ARE REQUIRED?

The spread of the virus and having the sort of crowds we used to see won’t be feasible for some time so it’s a discussion that should be taking place, if we’re following the stated timeline to start again.

Depending on where you live in the UK, you should be keeping a distance of one or two metres away from the next person and that will affect how many fans are allowed in their respective venues.

The wearing of face masks is mandatory as well if you visit shops so you would imagine that may be the case at ice hockey arenas too.  So, are the organisations having this conversation to make it safe for even a limited number of people to attend?

GIVEN THE DIFFERENT MEASURES TAKEN BY THE DEVOLVED AND UK GOVERNMENT, HOW WILL THIS IMPACT ON THE CLUBS AND THEIR ABILITY TO FUNCTION?

We’ve seen the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved administrations go their own way in how they provide advice and implement measures to keep their populations safe.

Sheffield Steelers won the Challenge Cup, the only trophy to be won before the season shut down because of COVID (PHOTO: Dave Williams)

With England, at the time of writing, still recording over 100 deaths a day compared to relatively zero elsewhere, how will this translate in terms of teams travelling over borders to fulfil their fixtures?

More so if there is a second wave that may bring further lockdown measures in the future.

IS THERE STILL A REAL POSSIBILITY THE 2020-21 SEASON MAY NOT HAPPEN AT ALL?

We don’t want to be the bringers of doom on this and that’s the last thing we all want, but it must still be an option looking further down the line as long as COVID-19 and the effects it has on our lives lingers.

If there’s anything certain about all of this, it’s the uncertainty of it, which we’ve outlined above and there are so many caveats to consider before we can all be confident of attending an ice hockey game on these shores.

While it’s great the league are looking ahead to a new season, there should be a mindfulness of the massive risk involved.  Safety has to be paramount and if it means the league is mothballed for a year, then that’s the way it should be.

But let’s all hope it doesn’t come to that and we can all go back in the safest of conditions and be able to enjoy it all again.

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