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Belfast Giants frozen out as Elite League confirm £4m funds are earmarked solely for English teams


The Belfast Giants will need additional funding from Sport NI to take part in next season's Elite League

The Belfast Giants will need additional funding from Sport NI to take part in next season's Elite League

William Cherry/Presseye

The Belfast Giants will need additional funding from Sport NI to take part in next season's Elite League

The Belfast Giants will have to apply for funding from Sport NI if they wish to be part of a shortened season in early 2021 after the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) confirmed that the £4million given to the league is for the English sides only.

There was hope that the £4m, announced as part of the DCMS' Winter Support Package last week, would be divided between the ten EIHL clubs in an attempt to get a belated season under way behind closed doors.

However, after further discussions, it has been discovered that the money, which is being distributed by Sport England, is earmarked solely for the five English teams in the league - even though the EIHL applied as a league and not as individual teams - and therefore the Giants will receive none of it.

While this announcement is a significant blow for the Giants, who are keen on being part of a season if it was to begin in early 2021, their hopes of playing some ice hockey aren't extinguished yet.

The EIHL have confirmed that they will work with the Giants - as well as the Cardiff Devils and the three Scottish teams - to try and gain individual funding from their respective devolved authorities, in the Giants' case Sport NI.

Sport NI announced last week that they had received £10m in funding to help local sport in addition to £15m earmarked specifically for sport by the Stormont Executive in October, and the hope is that they will provide funding for the Giants to be part of a shortened EIHL campaign.

The EIHL has been suspended since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the 2020-21 season on an indefinite hiatus as it would not be financially viable without fans in the stands.

However, this funding boost for the English sides means they could begin playing behind closed doors potentially as early as February, with the hope that some fans could be allowed in towards the tail end of the season should the situation with the pandemic improve.

The Giants are hopeful they can be a part of that as well, however they will need to receive some financial support from Sport NI to do so given the loss of income they will have by playing games.

Not only do the Giants have to sign players and buy equipment, they also have to factor in the costs of playing a season, including putting ice in the SSE Arena for home games and travel for road games - something which is significantly tougher when they can't sell tickets or make money from concessions.

EIHL chairman Tony Smith commented: "We are not losing sight of the fact that we applied for government help as one Elite League across four nations. While the funding that covers England is extremely welcome, our next steps are to try to secure similar possibilities for the remaining five teams.

"Until we know more, there is no guarantee that these nations will allocate funding for ice hockey. We are calling on the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to assess the options available to all teams in their regions as soon as possible.

"The EIHL will do everything it can to assist these teams in requesting funding from their devolved administrations, and take the lead in the process where required.

Furthermore, Smith confirmed that if the EIHL accepts the funding then a season will go ahead, with the money specifically set aside in order for the league to start up in early 2021 rather than to help clubs prepare for the 2021-22 season.

"What we do also know now is that the funding is only available to us if we put an Elite League level product on the ice, and that it is not a ‘blank cheque’ - everything in England will need to be applied for via Sport England to ensure funds requested are appropriate and proportionate to putting a product on the ice," he added.

"There are a lot of different aspects that we will continue to look at over the next few days and weeks, when we have a clearer picture of how things stand across all parts of the UK we will keep our fans updated.

"We’re still some way from being able to guarantee something might happen in early 2021, and again I’d ask for everyone’s patience while we continue to find out more information."

Belfast Telegraph