Independent Hockey – Scottish Independence Possibilities

Next year Scotland goes to the polls to vote on independence. It is a big question and one that has many pros, cons and arguments. However one question has never been asked. What effect will an independent Scotland have on the Great Britain hockey team?

In sport in general if there is a yes vote, athletes of Scottish decent will be able to decide whether to represent the independent Scotland or remain part of the Great Britain team where eligible according to the individual rules. There will also remain a Great Britain side but mostly represented by English, Welsh and Northern Irish athletes. Of course at present many sports are represented by the home nations on many levels although a Great Britain team usually represents the very top of the sport. Soccer is one notable exception and other sports such as Rugby Union and Curling only come together for a Great Britain team at major events such as the Olympics.

In ice hockey terms the Great Britain side is the top representative side. Whilst England and Scotland sides do exist in the junior ranks it is the Great Britain team that represents the whole United Kingdom at IIHF events. In all sports if Scotland is to compete as an independent country it must have its own federation and in ice hockey it does. This is the SIHA or Scotland Ice Hockey which currently forms part of the wider Ice Hockey UK with its English counterpart and the Elite League. Following independence if it should happen the SIHA could make its own application to join the IIHF and become part of the international ice hockey scene.

In the short term this is a big upheaval to Scotland. An application to join the IIHF should be successful and then the work of setting up a national team would begin. Whilst it is a lot of work it is very do able after all there are plenty of coaches and players eligible to play for an independent Scotland. Scotland would of course start at the bottom of the World Championship ladder but Scotland should prove to be competitive in Division 3 against the likes of Hong Kong, UAE, Georgia, Bulgaria. Even Division 2 B against Turkey, Mexico and South Africashouldn’t prove to be a great task.

images (2)The main sticking point is that many of the top Scottish players have represented Great Britain and therefore would have to play 4 straight years professional in Scotland before becoming eligible. However of the 2013 squad only Stephen Murphy and Colin Shields are Scottish by birth.

More long term though the Great Britain side could face recruitment problems as the pool of talent is shrank and Scotland has been heartland of the sport at the grass roots level. In recent years however the trend has been for a more English feel to the playing roster.

On the upside though an independent Scotland could provide an independent SIHA with better funding. Instead of central funding going straight to Ice Hockey UK from the IIHF, National Lottery or government agencies the Scottish government could provide grants and funding direct perhaps allowing for Scotland its own National Ice Centre.

On the whole league play would not be too adversely affected. The teams themselves join the leagues and an independent Scotland may create a league something like is already seen in Europe with the KHL, EBEL and other smaller leagues.

One area of contention could be the import rule though. Scottish players could be classed as imports as it is a British league although it is hard to see the EIHL counting Scottish players as imports when 4 of its member clubs are Scottish.

One difference though maybe that Scottish players in the NIHL may be more likely to play more in the Scottish National League and its standing may be increased by having a national side on the world side.

Year on year British including Scottish hockey fans perhaps would not notice too much of difference should Scotland become independent. The root for players to take to the top will remain the same. Over time though there is potential for the Scottish national team to develop and perhaps we could see internationals between the two but that is all long term and depends on the bogey word of ice hockey in the UK, funding.

500px-Emblem_of_SFR_Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia Association

There are some scenarios to compare the possible break away of Scotland to. The break up of the USSR gave ice hockey many new federations and countries with Russia remaining a top side and Ukraine and Kazakhstan also gracing the top 20. The most even break up sides to emerge are the Czech Republic and Slovakia both are inside the top 10 at present but Slovakia perhaps not hitting the same heights of their former partners. Yugoslavia perhaps had the biggest change in fortunes. A second tier international side in the 1980’s the break up into 5 federations left only the Slovenian side hitting any noterity on the international scene. The appearance in Sochi in February will be first time any of the former Yugoslavia nations have made an Olympics when the combined side reached 5 tournaments whilst the Yugoslav league has been reduced to nothing with teams playing in the KHL and EBEL.

So there have been mixed fortunes for hockey nations after a split in their national identity. In general there has always been a nation that performs stronger than their former partner. In Great Britain’s case on the national stage they will perform stronger than their Scottish independent counterparts but that is only guaranteed in the short term. Long term it is still hard to see how things will pan out as there are many determining factors. Success for an independent Scottish national side will come down to how will it organises itself and how much investment it can generate.

Whilst all hockey fans will despair on hearing for those two words there will be less of a worry, as league play will remain largely unaffected by any split. Potentially clubs and fans will need to sort out their passports but that is only a possibility. So overall if Scotland does become independent hockey fans don’t really need to worry as for better or worse the sport will remain the same.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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