Smith plays waiting game over funding

EIHL Chairman Tony Smith has hailed the new television partnership with Premier Sports (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

Elite League chairman Tony Smith hasn’t ruled out the possibility that the 2020/21 season could yet be scrapped altogether, but remains hopeful of seeing some action.

Smith, who also owns Sheffield Steelers, is waiting to find out whether the English Elite League teams will be successful in obtaining government funding which could allow them to play a short format competition.

But he admits there are issues to sort out before they are much clearer in knowing exactly how they’ll proceed.

“We have to make it clear that ice hockey and sport in general is secondary to people’s lives,” Smith told BBC Radio Sheffield’s Sports Academy show.

“We’re continuing to plan for a start at some point this season and if we can, we’re looking a possible start in March or April into May.

“Priority is to get past the funding obstacle and we remember the government made an announcement that they’d ring-fenced some money for the Elite League which was great news.

Nottingham Panthers and Manchester Storm could meet on the ice, if funds for the Elite League are to be granted (PHOTO: Mark Ferriss)

“We’re working our way through the massive application process with the government which includes a variety of submissions to get us to a point where we can discuss the reality of the money.

“For example, we need to know if it’s going to be a loan or a grant, or both.  What can we use it for?  Do we start to play or can we use it to be ready for next season or use for sustained losses for next season?

“There are a number of things to sort out, but we are expecting a decision on either 15th or 16th January from the government to confirm we have the funding in place.

“Right now, I can only speak for the funding option of English clubs and yes, we’d love to get some kind of competition going, if we can and that’s always based on the situation with Covid.

“If it gets worse before it gets better, it might be we look at the bigger picture and decide it’s crazy and lock everything down again.”

The government announced in November than among other sports, ice hockey would be entitled to £4 million to help them through the coronavirus, which has ceased any top flight action since March last year.

DCMS have pledged £4 million to help ice hockey as a result of Covid 19

Despite applying for the cash as a ten-team league, only English based sides were eliglble, leaving the remaining five teams to apply through their devolved governments.

Smith admits his surprise that only half the league could go it alone, but sees it as an opportunity for GB players to get some much needed action ahead of the Wold Championships, scheduled for May.

“We’re more further forward than we were in November and have a better idea of when we could start, but the priority is to get something going so we can help GB players with some ice for the World Championships, if it goes ahead.

“The plan is to go ahead with the English sides, but we did apply as a ten-team league so it was a surprise to learn that only the English teams were eligible for this.

“Because of the devolved governments, we’ve had to accept we can only deal with the English clubs.  The Scottish teams are working to secure funding in place to perhaps mothball under later in the year and it’s the same in Wales and Northern Ireland.  They’re being treated slightly differently.

“Once we have a better idea of how the vaccine is going, then we might be in a position to get something up and running and give the GB guys a chance.  Until then, we’ll have to wait and see.”

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