Sheffield Steelers have been 'shafted,' claims owner

Sheffield Steelers' owner and EIHL chairman Tony Smith has come out fighting after the league's attempts to win Government 'winter survival' funding collapsed.

Wednesday, 3rd February 2021, 4:39 pm

The Government is directing funds more towards the second tier, the NIHL (featuring Sheffield Steeldogs) and others, says Smith.

"I feel like we have been shafted," he added.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Tony Smith, left, with Steeler Rob Dowd

Earlier this week, Steelers privately briefed that they would not get involved in any mud slinging, despite the collapse of funding negotiations with Sport England and the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) over coronavirus lockdown relief.

Now, the mood has turned to one of bitterness.

"We were going to be diplomatic and stay quiet about all this, but I think that's the wrong thing to do," said the Sheffield businessman.

"We initially started going after this money in June or July and it took months to find the right sources to deal with before we began filling forms in.

"We asked for grants for four English clubs to run a mini series in March, April into May partly to help get the Great Britain lads back on the ice (prior to the summer World Championships.)

"The Government stipulated that £4m would be made available to the Elite League.

"The DCMS and Sport England then went on to move the goalposts. If you look at the Government website, when they made the original allocation announcement, it clearly stated the money would be for the "Elite League" not elite ice hockey.

"It is pretty black and white. There was no mention of money for the Elite League and a few leagues further down, the amateur side of the game.

"I think there has been some manipulation of the term 'elite' because we seem to have an awful amount of teams classed as elite teams and that wasn't how we understood it at the outset.

"The money was coming to our league, not anybody else's."

Smith said he felt frustrated and disappointed.

"We put a huge amount of hours into this, now everything has gone pear shaped. I am aggrieved, we could be starting now and helping the GB guys.

"I feel we have been shafted because some of this money has gone to other leagues.

"At the end of the day, Sport England have seen a cheaper option to start the lower leagues and get the grassroots going. And I have no problem with that, but it should not be at the expense of the Elite League. And that seems to me what has happened."

As for the notion of a Government loan for the suggested EIHL mini league starting next month, Smith added: "There was no way we could borrow money for that particular series, because a loan would have meant starting next season in debt, and Steelers haven't been in debt for a long time."

Keep up to date with all the latest from Sheffield Steelers via our dedicated Twitter account @TheStarSteelers, or join our Steelers Facebook group.