Revolution looms in UK Ice Hockey amid claims of lack of trust, inefficiency and cash queries

GB men's team achieved gold "despite" background issues
GB men's team achieved gold "despite" background issues

Tony Smith, Sheffield Steelers owner and chairman of the Elite League, is waiting in the wings to see if he and other members of the UK’s national governing body will be deposed in a move designed to modernise the way the sport is run.

A working party set up by the English Ice Hockey Association has slammed “poor governance” and decision-making across the UK - specifying money issues involving the GB set-up, a lack of trust between bodies and individuals and the sheer number of different organisations involved which contribute to “inefficiencies and a muddled picture.”

Junior ice hockey in Sheffield

Junior ice hockey in Sheffield

Their report spoke of a “lack of transparency on finances...not knowing the full picture on where the sport gets its income, how it then allocates across the sport...many expressed a lack of trust over control for the GB teams.”

A lack of co-ordination was “stifling development at every level” - despite this Spring’s GB World Championships gold medal promotion and the overseas interest in players like homegrown former Steelers Liam Kirk and Ben O’Connor.

The report calls for the end of the over-arching Ice Hockey UK administration, on which Smith is a vice chairman under Richard Grieveson, who has 30 years’ experience in the sport industry.

IHUK is the only organisation affiliated to the world’s international body the IIHF.

Tony Smith

Tony Smith

The report favours a single, new UK agency, run by fresh faces, which might attract so far elusive Government funding.

“In order to overcome issues of trust and poor governance to date, they (members) also believed it would help to create a new UK body.

“This would enable a fresh start to avoid any ‘baggage’ from previous for unfit purpose organisations/bodies.”

The report added GB’s recent successes internationally “occurred despite the poor governance structure.”

Smith agreed that the UK sport at all levels had been “fractured and fragmented” for too long, with not one governing body to tackle the challenges.

However, he isn’t expecting a major impact on the Elite League, likening its relatively short history to that of football’s “breakaway” Premier League.

But he told The Star he would engage in any talks within the sport.

He recalled how in 2003 the Elite League had been set up to control its own commercial affairs and still has a legal agreement in place the primary elements of which he and the other stakeholders would not like to see changed.

For example, he wouldn’t want to see any attempted new directives enforced on imports.

“We have 11 teams, with 55 British players, we’re in the top 16 in the world. We are playing with four lines and there are three apprentices at most (EIHL) clubs.

“The structure works.

“Why go back to 2007-8 when there were six or seven imports and we could not get bums on seats?” he asked.

“I guess we are going to have to see what happens now the report is out, but I am not worrying about how it would affect those of us on the professional side.”

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