More Questions than Answers

British ice hockey is no stranger when it comes to a list of terrible owners. Most notably perhaps was Gary Cowan whose ownership of the then biggest club in the country, Manchester Storm, last a matter of months before the money dried up and disputes with the arena set in. Now perhaps Christopher Knight whose reign as owner of the Belfast Giants ended at the weekend in player walk out over Knight’s 2003 conviction for a child sex offense will supersede Cowan’s infamy.

It emerged on Monday that the entire Belfast Giants roster and coaching staff had quit Knight’s Belfast Giants and the arena operators, The Odyssey Trust, had terminated a contract that allowed Knight’s team to play their. This following the revelation that Knight was in 2003 convicted of a sex offense with a minor between 12 and 16 in Florida. After quitting the team the players and coaching staff then played their league games with the Coventry Blaze before the Odyssey Trust announced on Monday that it had created a new Belfast Giants side. This side has been given the green light by the EIHL to carry on where Knights Belfast Giants left off but there are still many questions that have not been answered.

First of it is highly commendable the actions of the players to walk and play two games without any pay. Secondly the Belfast Giants have become one the best franchises for the sport in the UK and for the city of Belfast and no one can doubt that that should continue.

There is however a question of how a new team can just carry on in the league. It is a question that the Elite League has not answered in its statement (released Tuesday). Whilst the Elite League rightfully gave their backing to the new club it mentioned nothing of the old club and whether or not that license had been cancelled or transferred. It is an important point after all what is to stop a dispute between business partners or between the players and the owners over wages resulting in breakaway teams?

There are also questions that have to be asked of the Elite League set up. In many sports leagues it has in recent years become the league’s responsibility to approve takeovers and changes in ownership to try to prevent fraudsters and undesirables being associated with the league and to protect the integrity of the league. Is the EIHL so far behind other leagues that this didn’t happen or did the previous owners overlook Knights past?

Looking beyond this saga it has once again raised the issue of leadership at the EIHL. There has been no transparency over the decision making process to instate the new Belfast Giants. There was no quick response to reassure fans turning up on Friday that there would be a game from the EIHL.

Whilst it does appear that the Belfast Giants will continue not only this season but on to the next and beyond this incident needs to be the kick that the EIHL needs to get its act together or there will be another more serious incident down the line that may result another team disappearing from the game in the UK.

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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