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Irish Hockey in limbo after opening fixtures cancelled over umpire crisis

 

By Graham Hamilton

The Hockey Ireland Board and the Irish Hockey Umpires Association's executive committee are to meet this weekend to try to resolve their differences after tomorrow's opening round of games in the EY League were called off.

All men's and women's IHL clubs were informed by the governing body that the much-awaited start of the third edition of the all-Ireland league would have to be put back as the two parties have yet to sort out the issues, particularly over what is perceived as derisory expenses for umpires.

The IHUA declined to put forward a list of umpires available for appointment this weekend, effectively going on strike at that level.

And Hockey Ireland's contingency plan - to get clubs to use their own umpires - never got off the ground as those umpires are all part of the IHUA, although some were agreeable to help out.

The Board's Working Group discussed the issue and, with insufficient umpires available, felt there was no other option but to postpone all IHL games, both at men's and women's level.

This would ensure clubs would be out of pocket as little as possible, taking into consideration the preparation and planning of activities in the run-up to the match and also any costs surrounding hotel bookings, food and match programmes.

Hockey Ireland chief executive officer Jerome Pels said: "We regrettably had to decide that this weekend's programme of matches will have to be postponed as the clubs have not been notified of their appointed umpires for their matches.

"We hope that the clubs, the players, members and sponsors appreciate that this has been a difficult decision and has not been taken lightly."

The IHUA were reluctant to go down their route but felt the governing body were aware of the grievances, what was needed to halt the decline in qualified umpires and what was necessary to attract new match officials.

But little or no progress was made on dealing with what they perceive as a vital part of the sport which is under-funded and under-resourced.

To offset the problem, and to help implement the proposed four-year Umpires Plan, the IHUA are seeking a €70 levy on each team for each game.

This would not only raise umpires' expenses to a more reasonable rate - they feel the current 20 cents per kilometre is well below all other all-Ireland sports - and there would be some left over to cover the administration of appointments and the development of new and existing umpires at national level.

Hockey Ireland's argument is that the sport is volunteer-driven and as such a change in policy is not included in their rules and regulations.

And so their preference was to have a Special General Meeting called, so that clubs - some of which are over-stretched on finances already - can make their views known.

The IHUA executive committee, though, didn't believe an SGM was necessary and were prepared to discuss the issues, but were surprised at the lack of urgency shown, particularly in the offer of October 1 as the date for a face-to-face meeting.

This would leave matters up in the air for a further two weeks, taking into consideration there is a full women's programme on September 23 and September 30 and one men's game on September 23 as well as the Under-16 and Under-18 boys' inter-provincials, and a full IHL programme on September 30.

"Our executive committee welcome the opportunity to have face-to-face discussions on all the issues that remain unaddressed," said Warren McCully, the IHUA chairperson.

"While we intended to accept the Board's invitation to meet on October 1, we were surprised that these vitally important issues were being allowed to drift and potentially affect three weekends of the Irish Hockey League in the interim.

"We are pleased that the face-to-face meeting will now take place sooner."

It seems certain the two parties will meet in Dublin tomorrow to try to thrash out an agreement which will allow the all-Ireland programmes to get up and running, albeit a week later than scheduled.

Provincial games, though, will go ahead as normal tomorrow.

That means north of the border all scheduled Kirk Cup and Linden Cup ties for men and the Ulster Shield and Ulster Cup ties for women will still go ahead as planned.

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