Heads In The Sand: IHUK’s Continuing Refusal To Accept The Truth

I’ll admit, I was struggling to find something to write about today, and thought I might have to take another few days away from Chasing Dragons to enjoy the off-season (contrary to what it may look like on here and on my Twitter feed, there are times when I don’t think about hockey).

Then I saw that the chairman of IHUK, Mohammed Ashraff, speaking to Mick Holland in the Nottingham Post. You can read the full interview here.

Mick Holland himself tears the IHUK board apart, making references to the stereotype of an “old boys club” and referencing the fact that UK Lacrosse (a sport with three times more players due to its popularity at university level in the UK but almost no profile outside it (can you name a single lacrosse team?) has recently received £3.4 million in funding over the next four years from Sport England. Even movement and dance has received £1.9 million. British ice hockey? Nothing.

Clearly, someone somewhere in the IHUK board isn’t presenting the case properly for a sport which is the biggest indoor spectator sport in the UK and has over 5000 registered players. In Hungary (a team ranked higher than GB in the world and with more government funding) there are 119.

But despite a fragmented league system, a board which can’t afford to pay full-time employees and a sport where it appears to be a struggle to even get the men’s national team together outside of one tournament a year in April, never mind the juniors and ladies, Mr Ashraff still thinks that IHUK are doing a “great job” citing the trips to Japan (where the team managed to hold their top ranking and progress to the next level) and Latvia (where the GB team were well beaten) as examples.

Ashraff says that it’s the intention of IHUK to make a bid to Sport England for help…which begs the question, why the hell hasn’t it been done before? Or if it has, how, with hockey being the most popular indoor sport in the country and the EIHL seeing growing attendance numbers in most rinks, has it not been taken seriously?

Ashraff argues that there’s no money in IHUK and funding is needed. But interestingly, no mention is made of how the £100k grant to get the GB Olympic team to Sochi (which failed in its objective) was actually spent, nor of the fact that of those 5,000 registered players the vast majority have to pay a subscription fee to IHUK each year just in order to be able to play. The current reg fees for England in 2012/13, which are freely available on the associations website, are:

EPL (English Premier League) £160

NIHL (National Ice Hockey League) £109

WPL/WD1 (Women’s Leagues) £64

For recreational players, the cost is £50 per player.

For junior players, the cost is £46 per player (under 16) and £63 per player (16 to 18)

No information is publicly available for the EIHL, at least none that I could find.

now, stick with this bit, cause it gets a bit numbers-heavy for a little while. There is a point, I promise.

So, let’s do some quick (and rough) maths. For the purposes of this case, we’re assuming that pro/NIHL teams in Britain carry a roster of 20 registered players at the start of the season.

Based on this, we can remove 200 registered EIHL players from any cost calculation of registered players, as no figures are available:

5,119 (total number of reg players) – 200 EIHL players = 4,921 players for the calculation.

Of those (again using the 20 limit), 200 are EPL players (10 teams), 760 are NIHL players (38 teams total), making a total of 960 pro/semi pro players.

There are 22 women’s teams in England and Wales-let’s assume they carry rosters of 15 adults, which makes for 330 of the 478 adult female players registered (the other 148 are, for the purposes of this calculation, playing recreational or junior).

There are 2,897 junior-aged players of both sexes, of which let’s assume 10% (290) are aged 16-18.

So-recreational players in the UK add up to 4,921 – 2,897 – 940 = 1084.

Using all these figures (and I stress again this is a VERY ROUGH estimate due to possible differences between England and Scotland, players playing for more than one team (particularly at rec/women’s level) and uncertainty over precise numbers of juniors for age, the EIHA last year made:

200 x £160 = £32,000 in reg fees from EPL clubs

760 x £109 = £82,840 in NIHL reg fees

1084 x £50 = £54,420 in rec reg fees

1997 (2897-290) x £46 = £119,922 in u16 reg fees

330 x £64 = £21,120 in women’s reg fees

290 x £63 = £18,270 in u16-u18 player reg fees.

So, in total, IHUK took in an estimated £328,572 last year from the EIHA in player registration fees alone. That’s leaving out 200 players in the top league in the country, and does not take into account players registering for more than one club, club franchise fees/fines or indeed any other income, but purely players in Britain paying for the right to pay.

All the registration fee figures, by the way, are freely available on the EIHA’s website here, and the raw numbers of players are taken from the IIHF’s information page on Great Britain here.

So, with over £300,000 going into IHUK from players around the country at least…-where is that all being spent?

These, in large part, are fees paid by the players themselves to play the sport they love (with the exception of the EPL). I know I pay £50 to play at rec level just to be allowed onto the ice itself, never mind icetime, equipment and travel costs, which probably run into the high hundreds or even thousands.

Yet Mr. Ashraff states explicitly in his interview today, when comparing hockey and lacrosse and discussing UK funding that:

“…we have to look at how other sporting bodies are funded; lacrosse for instance is one that is funded directly by the players, the actual participants.

“In ice hockey we do not have that direct contribution from those taking part and there lies the fundamental issue. So that may have to change.”

Sorry, Mr. Ashraff, but there’s at least three hundred grand worth a year of UK players’ money flowing into/sitting in an IHUK bank account somewhere that disagrees with you on this point for a start, on top of franchise fees, fines and lord only knows what other payments teams are required to make in order to operate. It certainly doesn’t go on paying the officials for grass-roots games-teams pay the expenses themselves at junior, women and rec level at least.

Especially as you make a great play of mentioning that only one person on the IHUK board is paid…and surely that doesn’t all go to pay them.

Then comes the discussion of applying to Sport England for funding to grow the sport. Clubs individually are already doing this-my own Honey Badgers of Coventry squad are running a Sport-England-funded “Learn To Play” programme right now, and it has been a great success. Cardiff, too, is a big centre of LTP schemes at rec level. Clearly, with a well-put-together application there is willing to support the game. So why is the IHUK chairman putting excuses and obstacles in the way, and being keen to avoid optimistic talk, instead preferring to deliver platitudes, misleading quotes and vague promises? Doesn’t paint the world with a rosy glow, does it?

Granted, there has been movement recently-the GB national team is beginning to gain a little more coverage (or was before the disappointing performance in April), and I have no doubt that the likes of Todd Kelman and Tony Smith are using their efforts with the slowly-improving EIHL as inspiration and doing their best to push change through. But the question remains-why has it taken so long and why, with the EIHL growing year on year in many areas and the EPL, too, reaching a thriving state, is the new chairman of the sport’s governing body still making excuses for things they haven’t done in the past rather than outlining a clear plan for what they have and will do? British hockey fans know what mistakes have been made. They don’t want a rehash of the past. They want action.

And why, only now is the national governing body beginning to realise that it’s crucial for a board to present a professional, united front in order to get sponsorship and media coverage, when many teams realised that long ago and are openly making steps to do so?

Mr. Ashraff states that now, IHUK have an appointment during the summer with Sport England to apply for funding-and with new people involved I’m more hopeful than I might have been that this has an effect.

But right now, although he may have seen this interview as a hope of clearing the air, all Mr Ashraff has done is muddy the waters.

IHUK has a job to do. British hockey fans all over the country are tired of hearing the same old excuses of “ice hockey isn’t a sport that will be popular in Britain” or “there’s no money in the governing body”. The first statement is patently false, as it already is-the second…well, a little digging will show you that, while there may not be riches in the IHUK bank vault, it’s not exactly only occupied by moths, either. Mr. Ashraff, British hockey fans have had enough of being told why the sport can’t grow-now we want you to focus on why it can, using all the resources at your disposal. It’s time to stop focusing on all the perceived obstacles in the way of UK hockey and go out and beat them.

After all, nothing worth having ever came easy, did it?

2 thoughts on “Heads In The Sand: IHUK’s Continuing Refusal To Accept The Truth

  1. Paul, an interesting blog. As a hockey fan, I echo much of the sentiment you have as I would like to see the sport grow and improve! I also, in a professional capacity, have an insight into the way sport is funded by Sport England. Without going into too much detail, the governing body of the sport has to meet certain criteria set by Sport England. I’m guessing … IHUK as the governing body of the sport doesn’t satisfy these hence the reason why they have not received funding from Sport England. Also, in the eyes of Sport England, comparing Lacrosse with Ice Hockey is like comparing apples and pears owing to the way the fund sport in England.

    A good read … best wishes

  2. The registration fees you quote are the EIHA fees, not IHUK. I think there’s a £5/£10 per year subscription per player for IHUK but I’m not sure if that’s been agreed by EIHA yet.

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