Comment: Why Pride Weekend matters in the EIHL

The Elite League are holding their first Pride/You Can Play weekend in support of LGBTQ+ communities (PHOTO: David Williams)

We’re almost at the weekend that’s going to be a landmark one for the Elite League as all the fans get ready to spread the word of Pride and You Can Play.

It’s one I’m personally excited about because it will show our sport and our top league in the best possible light and all the coverage it’s getting is fantastic as sports media up and down the country are turning to us.

For the cause itself, it’s something that has grown incredibly over the years and the fact we have a league-wide initiative spreading a unified message that ice hockey is all inclusive for everybody is one that should be spread far and wide.

The message to the wider world may have grown as the movement continues to increase, but the core values remain the same.  It’s about visibility and creating a sense of belonging for people who feel exluded.

For many, they still feel they have to hide their sexuality to perhaps their families or even work colleagues.  In 2020, I still think that’s a tragedy and if this weekend helps someone in that regard, the purpose will have been a success.

All ten clubs will present a unified message this weekend (PIC: Elite League)

You only need to read the excellent Sky Sports piece with Jay Forster, an amateur who plays for Deeside club Flintshire Phantoms to get a feeling of how ice hockey helped when he came out as transgender a couple of years ago.

Inclusivity is a massive thing, of course and as the father of a young daughter, I would want her to be accepted, no matter who she becomes and no matter what she does in life.

The Elite League itself has come a long way since the homophobia scandal involving David Simms in March 2017 when a comment he made at a Sheffield Steelers game led to widespread condemnation from all over.

I worked for the league at the time as one of the media officers at the time and the reaction to it was fierce, both in terms of emails we received and social media posts.  Rightfully so.

As I look back, I’m still of the opinion it wasn’t dealt with it in the right way, despite the best efforts of certain individuals.  In actual fact, a weekend event like this was put forward as a suggestion by both my former partner Rob McGregor and I.

The three Scottish clubs revealed their specially designed jerseys at a press conference in Glasgow earlier this week (PHOTO: British Ice Hockey)

Sadly, it never really got off the ground, but in that short time, to be where we are at the cusp of celebrating something like this deserves a lot of praise and credit.  I’m definitely glad to see the Elite League has embraced this now.

I don’t recall a sporting organisation getting together to spread a message like this and one of the aims was to have all the clubs reach out their local LGBTQ+ groups, which they’ve all done and the specially designed jerseys all look magnificent.

The EIHL’s aim is to make this a regular part of the season calendar and if the excitement I’ve seen from fans across social media is anything to go by, they may as well pencil the dates in now for 2021.  They probably already have.

It’s a powerful message the fans will spread and I’ll be proud to do the same over the weekend.  Love is love, no matter who it’s between and that’s absolutely worth celebrating.

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