Revealed: The behind-the-scenes lobbying for ice hockey

Elite League bosses believe they will break even after the current mini-series - an extraordinary feat given the fact there are no paying ice hockey supporters in the stands.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 10:43 am
Updated Friday, 23rd April 2021, 10:45 am

The EIHL tournament appeared to be a non-starter a few months ago, with club owners seemingly unable to convince the Government to part-fund a return to Covid-protected play.

But with the behind the scenes help of a Sheffield MP, the project went ahead, with the regular part of it drawing to a close this weekend, followed by a short play-off section.

Steelers' owner and EIHL chairman Tony Smith said: "It had been our hope from the beginning that we'd break and that would be a good result for us. We won't know until the final web-streaming figures are in, but it looks hopeful.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

"Considering Sport England did not know who we were a short time ago, we are now achieving what we wanted, to get some sort of connection with the fan base, get hockey going again and get the Great Britain guys ready for the prestige World Championships in a few weeks."

It has been a turbulent, but rewarding journey, said the Sheffield businessman, and one guided by the MP for Sheffield South East.

"The original submissions we put in were turned down flat by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Sport England, they basically said: 'Sorry You are not getting a penny.' We decided not to accept that. I spoke to Richard Caborn who put me on to Clive Betts.

"He got (Secretary of State) Oliver Dowden to pick up speed and got them to have a look at a second proposal."

Sheffield Steelers' seven GB players. Pic by Dean Woolley.

The Star understands the first proposal had been for a series from February into early May. The Government agencies ruled that the costs would be too high.

So Smith revised the proposal to five weeks and Betts delivered and championed the details.

After months of wrangling the League finally inked a financial deal which included both grants and loans.

"I think Clive did a massive job for Steelers and the EIHL fans should realise what an important part he played in this" said Smith.

Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield South East.

"He put in a number of pressing letters to Government ministers and Sport England's CEO Tim Hollingsworth. We wouldn't have got a look-in to be honest without his clout as a MP.

"It is important that we reinforce the point that Clive did a lot of that work for us. He did something that we couldn't do.

"Sport England certainly didn't realise we were the largest indoor sport in the country until we started banging the drum.

"It was only when Clive gave us that push through the door that they realised we do have some standing in sporting communities and we should be taken seriously, over and above a few other sports."

Sheffield Steelers in EIHL play. Pic by Dean Woolley.