Comment: Windfall welcomed but same questions remain

The injection of £4 million into Elite League coffers is undoubtedly a welcome one for ice hockey and particularly the English clubs who will benefit from this.

For the Scottish clubs. Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils, the mission continues as they attempt to secure similar funding that will go some way to getting clubs back on the ice.

The money being set aside for the clubs is on the understanding something of a 20/21 season can be played.  The funds are not to cover losses or running costs, as was explained by EIHL chairman Tony Smith in the release on Thursday.

“What we do also know now is that the funding is only available to us if we put an Elite League level product on the ice, and that it is not a ‘blank cheque’,” he said and it may be a quote that by-passed a number of people.

On Friday, the league announced they are looking at their options, but have admitted they’re doing so with a degree of caution.

Tony Smith said on the Elite League website: “We are looking at dates for a January start as this part of the requirement of the funding.

“Obviously, 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 now 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.

“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.”

Whether that sees an England-only mini format or a nationwide league, depending on the other teams receiving funding, is nothing more than speculation at this moment in time.

It would be great to see, but I’m of the opinion it should be all or nothing in terms of the league and seeing the English teams play would be one in the eye for the fans of the other teams, watching enviously from the outside looking in.

As I say, that’s a discussion for another day, but what is on my mind is the same questions I had back in July when the idea of a new Elite League season was still active if not doubtful.

Jonathan Phillips, among many, have had to move abroad to play this season (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

Regular readers will recall the piece from July where we asked questions about the viability of a campaign going ahead so it seems reasonable to revisit those questions and see if the landscape is any different than it was four months ago when it was first posted.

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

We said at the time testing per individual cost £150 and would be a huge financial burden for the clubs if this was to become part of the routine.

This had been adopted by the major sports clubs, particularly in the Premier League, who had not long returned to action at a rate of two tests a week per player/staff member etc.

Since then, lower league football clubs have returned to action and have set out guidelines for players to follow and because of the cost, have opted out of testing.  So far, there’s been no major outbreak so it’s conceivable the Elite League may decide to leave testing, but have them if required.

If players are brought in from abroad, then they should be tested straight away and from there, clubs deal with isolated incidents and hope it doesn’t affect everyone else.

Will the EIHL invest in COVID testing kits if they were to go ahead in January?

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

We’re well into the second wave of course, but if a season is to start, the threat of a shutdown will always cast a shadow and the clubs must consider this and the cost of getting players home if need be.

As we said originally, 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 quarantine rules and the localised lockdowns we’ve sent across the UK.

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

We’ve seen in sport since most of them restarted, any players or staff members affected would need to be isolated immediately and make sure no other members of the team are infected.

We’ve also learned that it hasn’t affected teams too much and for the most part, they’ve dealt with the odd absence or two so the outlook is much better than it was, now we know the procedures are in place to deal with it.

Venues, like the Motorpoint Arena, would most likely be empty if there’s a re-start (PHOTO: Motorpoint Arena)

Vigilance will be the key and I know certain sports teams have designated Covid officers to ensure the health and safety of everyone within their domain and that’s something the Elite League will have to look at.

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

If they’re serious about re-starting, those conversations should have began when they realised there was a chance to play.  Chances are, if there is anything of a season, it will be played behind closed doors and fans will be restricted to watching live streams.

Until there’s no need for social distancing or, fingers crossed, the reported vaccine can be rolled out, then we suspect it will be players and staff only on game nights.

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 already seen that with the distribution of funding, a collective ten-team league has been split in two.  If the clubs not in England don’t get funding, then they would sit out until September and keep their heads above water for the next few months.

The greater concern is the tiered systems implemented locally and while we might see fans allowed in one building because of the tier system, it may not be allowable in another.  Right now, it’s too early to be sure.

The EIHL could use the template in playing games adapted by the NIHL Streaming Series teams (PHOTO: Kat Medcroft)

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

While we hope there is some action, there’s still too many hoops to jump through to get there.  It would great for those players who have unfortunately been idle so far this year, especially the GB internationals eyeing up the World Championships.

However, nothing can be ruled out at this moment in time and the Elite League are certainly looking into it so we’ll find out if they’re able to overcome the obvious hurdles.

For some teams, logistical issues could be a problem such as ice and their venues.  We may see most teams play, but not all.

Truthfully, sitting back and riding out 2020/21 is still a possibility and while getting the £4 million is a great thing, is it going to be worthwhile to the teams who do play?

Safety has to be at the forefront of everything in all this and if that can be achieved, then you’re on the right track. Everything else brings its own issues and the clubs will deal with that in due course.

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