BLOG: It’s like the Wild West

The title of this blog comes from a conversation with a good friend of mine as he was first introduced to the workings of the EPL and the EIHA. In the three years since he first said this, things have changed – for the worse.

During that period three clubs have gone through severe financial hardship, with one looking like it will fold entirely while two others are leaving the league.

The rules, which should be enforced by the governing body or the league management committee, are not, and the owners group, who are not recognised as the league management group according to the rules of competition, have now effectively staged a coup to install their own chairman.

They are also enforcing the mind-numbingly stupid decision to change the rules partway through the season and retrospectively punish a team for reasons that appear to boil down to “you’re still beating us and we don’t like it”.

This is a decision that has finally buried any final wisps of credibility that the EPL had in any sense of the word.

This is a strange situation as, on an individual basis, the team owners are good people and have the interests of their team at the heart of what they do.

The problem is that they need someone, be it an individual or group, to act in the best interests of the league and the sport in general. In theory, the Senior League Management Group are supposed to be just that – the ones looking to safeguard and manage the league.

Judging by the news that has come out regarding the various teams within the EPL, the Senior League Management Group have failed in their duty in no uncertain terms.

This has also damaged the credibility of the EIHA too – after all, they are the governing body that the EPL are affiliated to.

So could this have been prevented?

In the short version, yes. That’s an easy response to make, so let’s look at how.

The financial instability of some EPL teams is a well-known thing. It’s a running joke about certain teams that they’ll be gassing players and have the collection buckets out by Christmas. So why was this not addressed during previous seasons?

Common sense says that the rules of competition, the authoritative document for the league, should contain a clause, inserted at the appropriate time, (during the AGM for example), that any team not displaying financial prudence, (defined by going into liquidation, administration or bankruptcy), would be subjected to the EIHA’s own rules regarding being financial conduct and liable to sanction that would exclude them from EIHA administered ice hockey, potentially indefinitely.

Any competent league administration would have this in place already and would have made use of it on any number of the previous occasions where avoidable financial difficulties have occurred over the past few seasons.

You could argue the Senior League Management Group should have adopted a more hands-on approach, rather than leaving the teams to organise themselves, properly discharging the obligations placed on them by the EIHA Board of Directors – to mediate disputes, provide a balance between the interests of the clubs and their suppliers and mitigate the growth of power blocks that have potentially stifled growth of the sport and the league.

Instead, the team owners have been able to run amok, like a child having avoided the gaze of an uncaring parent to seemingly bully anyone that has illustrated their folly.

This is equally frustrating because the statement issued by the EPL, had it been made post-season with the sanctions being applied going forwards rather than retrospectively, would have been met with near universal acclaim.

It has some very positive parts to it:

  • Taking a zero-tolerance approach to hits to the head (following the EIHL lead)
  • Curtailing teams approaching players mid-season
  • League sanctions against teams failing to show appropriate financial prudence

These are positive points and could have been proudly shown off as a good governance approach and provide a solid base for future growth.

These have been completely overshadowed by the timing of the announcement, it’s method of implementation and the headline announcements that have come with it:

  • The retrospective exclusion of two clubs, a mid–season rules change in a grossly unfair manner that has brought the teams that approved this, the league and the governing body into disrepute
  • The public rebuffing by the league as a group, to the approaches of IHUK Chairman, Richard Grieveson to build a fit-for-purpose second tier league

The first point has been covered in depth via various social media outlets, and is being looked at by one of the affected teams in order to have the decision overturned. The second has not yet been examined.

The proposal for the restructured second tier, the solution originally requested from IHUK by the EPL owners concerned about the stability of their league, maybe still needs a little polishing.

However, it is a transparent and clearly sustainable model with simple steps in place to ensure that teams have a regular flow of new players via a talented player development pathway. This in turn keeps the costs down for the teams, which has the scope to increase participation.

The league owners have effectively stuck two fingers up at the man who has offered them the stability they craved for so long.

The issue with this, aside from being rather discourteous, is that the league owners, who have essentially presided over the effective collapse of the EPL, are trying to say to the hockey world “Don’t worry, we got this!”

The definition of “we got this” seems to be to watch five teams leave the EPL because the costs of competition are no longer sustainable, one experience extreme financial trauma and have to operate at a much-reduced budget the following season, two to be liquidated with one of those, despite restructuring, now at the stage where it is unknown week-to-week whether they will complete their fixtures.

“We got this” is probably not the best management plan. Instead it has cast league as one that appears bereft of integrity and credibility, seemingly unable to stick by its own rules, and by its actions is bringing the league, the governing body, the EIHA and the sport in this country into disrepute.

Given the standard of the hockey being played, the EPL has in recent seasons attracted international press coverage for the right reasons, and recently caught the eye of at least one terrestrial channel until basic due diligence dissuaded them from pursuing the matter further.

There is so much potential for this league, but it seems those in charge are so intent on staring at the little picture they’ve lost sight of the bigger one.

Maybe it’s time for a fundamental change in the way that hockey in this country is run, and stop the tail wagging the dog.

(Image permissions: Tony Sargent & John Uwins)

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