Sheffield Steelers’ 2020-21 Elite League season suspended as Fife Flyers and Dundee Stars defer until 2021-22

ELITE LEAGUE bosses have voted unanimously to further suspend the 2020-21 season, but have left the door open for some kind of hockey to be played early next year.

Sheffield Steelers celebrate winning last season's EIHL Challenge Cup, it proved to be their last game of the season after the impact of Covid-19 caused the rest of the season to be cancelled a few days later. Picture: EIHL.

The UK’s top-flight had already put back proposed start dates twice and was hoping to launch its campaign in early December. But continued government social distancing rules in relation to Covid-19 means no crowds are allowed in to watch games.

With no TV revenue or major league sponsorship deal, as seen in most other sports, without crowds, the EIHL cannot go ahead as teams rely on their matchnight revenues to operate.

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Sheffield Steelers’ owner Tony Smith, who doubles as the EIHL chairman said the league continued to speak with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and devolved administrations about their plans for the return of fans to arenas.

Sheffield Steelers' owner and EIHL chairman, Tony Smith.

“We’ve been very open that we need to have fans back in our arenas for us to begin playing again,” said Smith.

“We operate around 75 per cent to 100 per cent capacity at our venues and this is the level of crowds we would need in order to go ahead at any point, which isn’t a realistic option right now.

“Government compliance along with the safety of our players, officials, staff and fans is paramount to this decision.”

On the possibility of some form of hockey going ahead after the turn of the year, Smith added: “If government guidance and support were to change, some teams may be ready to revise their plans to return to play and would need a minimum of 8 weeks to prepare.

SAD DAY: Dundee Stars' head coach Omar Pacha. Picture: Derek Black/EIHL.

“We are looking into the possibility of some form of top level ice hockey in the UK potentially taking place in early 2021. This could start in late January or early February and go through into late June, but may not include all teams and again this is dependent on crowds being allowed back inside venues.

“We continue to speak with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and devolved administrations about their plans for the return of fans to arenas that would enable this to happen, but having a full EIHL season starting in 2020 with ten teams is now beyond us, unfortunately.”

Almost immediately, Scottish clubs Fife Flyers and Dundee Stars effectively ruled themselves out of playing hockey in 2020-21.

In a joint-statement on the club’s website, directors, Tom Muir and Jack Wishart, stated: “As an organisation we have come to the conclusion that we cannot viably participate in a season without fans in our arena and so we will not be playing hockey in 2020/21.

“This move will make sure we can survive and Fife can still have an ice hockey club to compete in the 2021/22 season, whenever that may be.”

Stars’ head coach Omar Pacha, previously in charge at both Hull Stingrays and Manchester Storm, said today’s developments was the worst moment he had experienced in his hockey career.

“In my professional career, I thought the worst day possible was the day when the season was cancelled on Friday March 13 but unfortunately today has surpassed that date,” said Pacha, who has signed a new three-year deal to remain at Dundee.

“Today will certainly be difficult for everyone involved, from players, staff, directors, volunteers, Stars TV, Dundee Ice Arena and most importantly our fans.

“A few weeks ago, I reached out to all the players to inform them to proactively look elsewhere for an opportunity, as the uncertainty was rising.

“I mentioned if the season goes ahead, they would have a position but it is with major disappointment that is was not the outcome I was looking for.”

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Thank you, James Mitchinson. Editor.