Negotiations end in disaster for Sheffield Steelers and EIHL clubs
Attempts to start a mini-season of top-tier ice hockey collapsed today after the Elite League admitted the Government's offer of support could ultimately lead clubs into a financial abyss.
The EIHL has been trying to establish for months whether offered Government 'funding' would be in the form of a loan or a grant.
Or a mixture of the two.
On several occasions, Sheffield Steelers had made it publicly clear that a pure loan would not be a feasible option for them and the remaining English clubs.
Nevertheless discussions continued on and off until today, when the EIHL published a statement saying that the much-vaunted lifeline would only be in the form of a loan.
Tellingly, the league said the Government proposal could actually kill off the elite hockey status in the UK, if implemented.
The end of plans for a condensed season are a huge blow to Great Britain national team players, many of whom will not have played since early last year by the time the summer World Championships are played. It will also lead to financial hardship for many skaters.
The EIHL obtained the full details of the so-called 'Winter Survival' package on Monday.
They said the proposal had been 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 English teams won't want to criticise the Government too much.
They may be in line for some public financing simply to help stay afloat.
"We are delighted with the support that has been afforded to Belfast, Cardiff, Dundee, Fife and Glasgow by Sport Northern Ireland, Sport Wales and Sport Scotland respectively, which is focused on helping them survive this very difficult period, during which no Elite League games have been played since March 2020," said the EIHL.
"The five English Elite League teams look forward to continuing their dialogue with Sport England to deliver a similarly positive outcome.
"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 number one attended indoor team sport in the United Kingdom."
In November, ice hockey was rejoicing after hearing that £4m was being "initially allocated" as part of the Whitehall survival fund.
Chairman of the Elite League and Sheffield owner Tony Smith, said at that time: “The Elite League is delighted that the government has recognised the importance of ice hockey and that the EIHL has been included in this unprecedented support package."
EIHA director, Andrew Miller, described the deal as "an unprecedented support package for ice hockey."