So, it looks like the “powers that be” are finally seeing sense and looking to unify under 1 single banner. British ice hockey could be finally getting the new start and unified structure it so badly needs. Or is it?
You see, unifying the governing bodies will be pointless in truth if the current structure of leagues etc is simply carried over without any changes being attempted. And that will be the tricky part. There are too many people with vested interests in maintaining the current system, if only for their own ego. And this will hold the sport back far more than a fragmented approach to governance.
Truth be told, the main aim for a new, unified entity governing the sport should be to develop the British game. And by that, i mean developing players born and bred here in Britain. Sure, the EIHL can be a wonderful showpiece to advertise the sport to a wider audience, but ultimately the most coverage the sport has gotten of late has come from Team GB reaching the rarified air of the games elite level. And if the development of Brits continues as it is, then this success will be short lived.
Despite there being a few well established British player in the EIHL, they best of them are now in the “prime year”, and soon will be in the inevitable slow decline from their best. ANd young players just don’t seem to be coming up to replace them at a sufficient rate. And a big part of this is the lack of opportunities afforded to them by top teams. Sure, all EIHL teams are required to have 3 Under 23 players on their roster, but realistically, how many of them get what could be described as worthwhile minutes on the ice? Because that’s how a player proves themselves and improves. By playing. Training with the imports and riding the pine only gets a player so far down the path. ANd doing this requires getting all the teams onside with the concept that EIHL clubs are a part of the development process for young players, not the end goal.
Imagine how few exciting young footballers, or rugby players there would be if top level football & rugby clubs were only interested in the “finished article”, as many hockey clubs seem to be. Hell, imagine how few players would be drafted if the NHL clubs were only interested in fully developed players. The whole concept makes no reasonable sense.
Anyway, perhaps of equal import is how the proposed new NGB is governed. Currently, the whole set up at both EIHA and IHUK level is very much a “jobs for the boys” system. People get into positions of power and influence simply by being part of the “network” and by not rocking the boat. This needs to be stopped. In my opinion, the bare minimum that should be implemented for a new NGB involves an independent chair (i.e. no specific club/organisation affiliation), and at least 1 other independent director. The independence of these roles is vital, as in theory someone with no ties to any particular club or level of the game should have no “agenda” beyond what is best for the sport overall. And don’t tell me that there is no money to pay for this. There is. You can go see the finances of the EIHA at Companies House. They are sat on a significant amount of cash (£522k shown as “cash at Bank & in hand” in the 2017 accounts), which they should be spending on developing the game, but seem content to just let sit in the bank. As for IHUK? They seem to have made small losses, but detailed accounts are unavailable, so I won’t draw any inferences as to it’s stability/liquidity.
And this change needs to happen as soon as possible. The sport has some credit with the media this year, thanks to the showing at the World Championships. And games against high profile opposition such as Canada & the USA are a great shop window for the sport. But it must be capitalised on, and made to benefit the sport as a whole, not just the EIHL. The opportunity to grow is there. It just needs to be grasped.
Brave new world? Only if someone has the vision and intent to deliver it. Otherwise, it will be yet more years of the same old, same old. And surely no one wants that, right?