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Funding would give Belfast Giants reassurance ahead of Elite League return in September: Thornton



The Belfast Giants are waiting to find out if they're in line for funds awarded by the government

The Belfast Giants are waiting to find out if they're in line for funds awarded by the government

William Cherry/Presseye

The Belfast Giants are waiting to find out if they're in line for funds awarded by the government

Belfast Giants head of hockey operations Steve Thornton is hopeful that the team can benefit from government funding to help them get back on the ice in September.

After suspending the 2020-21 season last September, the Elite League (EIHL) announced on Monday that plans to set up a short season starting this month had been abandoned and that all 10 teams would start working towards making sure the 2021-22 campaign starts on time instead.

That means Adam Keefe's Giants will have been off the ice - and, crucially, not receiving income - for 18 months by the time the EIHL intends to return, and Thornton is keen to work with Sport NI to help put a quality product back on the ice in a safe manner, both to help the team and provide good news for supporters.

"We're thankful that the fund is in place. We've submitted an application and that would give us assurances that, if we're successful in it, it will give us some support in these difficult times," explained Thornton.

"With all of the unknowns whether there'll be fans, it would be reassuring that the government recognises that ice hockey is one of the biggest indoor sports, and sport is one of the areas that people possibly need for that mental release. Coming to sports is a great way to get the economy back into action.

"The impact of the pandemic has been devastating on our business and (the Sustainability Fund) would allow us to have budgeting conversations.

"We want to get the best product on the ice that we can, there are standards that we've set over the last 20 years that has seen us compete with the best teams in Europe. There's going to be major changes, but it would allow us to start planning our budget."

Part of planning that budget involves getting a team on the ice and Thornton admits that, while the team are still talking to players from previous rosters, they cannot start having significant contract discussions until they know their finances.

But the former Giants defenceman admits it's good to have clarity over the future of the league so that they can put their sole focus on next season.

"We've never taken our eye off that September date. With where we're at in lockdown, I think for public safety it's probably the right call," added Thornton.

"What it does do is it gives you that glaring focus on what must be done over the next few months to start back up again in September.

"We're trying to prepare for all scenarios because things can change on a week to week basis. Once we have more firm ideas from the (EIHL) board table - and everyone is working in the same direction on that, which is good - we can start having more of those conversations."

Belfast Telegraph

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