Not For Everyone 2: Why the EIHL NEEDS to Wake Up To What It’s Doing

Last week, I wrote a post on inclusivity in the EIHL and how the atmosphere around the EIHL was deteriorating and ruining the experience for many. I particularly cited its stance on anti-LGBTQ and misogynistic behaviour, and how it was driving fans away. I also cited some tweets from hockey fans that showed the effect it was having. After I wrote that post, I got asked if I could post this. This is a guest post that every EIHL owner needs to read. It shows just what impression many fans get of the EIHL, and just how people are being effected by the way the EIHL is marketing itself and just how insiduous the “family friendly” lie really is. 

It is from Kerrie. She is my fiancée. Not that that should matter to anyone when you read the post, as the same thing is happening to fans all over the EIHL. Whether the “in-crowd” want to admit it or not-this is a blog that all of the EIHL needs to read.

My name is Kerrie, and several years ago I swore I’d never write a hockey blog again.

I wrote a post that garnered a very negative reaction. In hindsight, I now realise that the pos may not have been very well thought out, and have since apologised personally for it to whom it may concern. However, that did not excuse the reaction. For every person criticising the post purely in hockey terms, there were five insulting my appearance, my mental health and my ability to be left unsupervised. You think of the most base, horrible language used, it was used.

But that was years ago, right? Things will have changed for the better by now, right?

No.

The Elite League has a bullying problem and a discrimination problem. It always has, and it is not going anywhere. It’s only gotten worse lately – the blog I wrote was just before the boom in social media, and that boom has exacerbated the problem.

People have opinions about their teams. People have other, differing ones. A lot of the time these can be discussed civilly and that’s that, but in a social media age it’s different. You can be dragged through the mire easier than ever before, by people who you’ve never met but who REALLY need you to know you’re mentally ill and shouldn’t be allowed outside because of your opinions on hockey.

I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that one of the most prominent mouthpieces in UK hockey uses bullying language himself. The one with the biggest reach and audience of all. He does it, so it must be fine. A man who has tweeted bigotry (“go back to Pakistan” is a racist comment, no matter how you want to dress it up), homophobia and requests for pictures of fit girls in skimpy clothes for an Ice Girls contest which may or may not have existed.

Now, you’re already aware of all this, and you’re probably thinking “who cares? Who really gets upset by that?” Well… the majority of hockey fans in the UK aren’t upset by it because they aren’t in any sort of minority. They’re perfectly happy to turn a blind eye to it, as long as nobody swears in front of a child because hockey is really big on its family sport gimmick but it’s perfectly alright to yell “FAGGOT” at an opposing player (and defend such comments on club forums, as happened on a now-deleted thread on a club forum only last week). That absolutely is not worse than swearing.

Consider, for a minute, if you’re female, queer, and indeed mentally ill (I suffer from clinical depression). I am all of these things. Queer is how I describe myself by the way, so please don’t try and tell me what I should describe myself as.

As a queer woman, I have had to listen to more players being called “gay” as an insult than I can count. I have winced until my face hurt as I listened to why a team couldn’t sign up to the You Can Play project because it “might alienate people”.

As a mentally ill woman, I have listened to a GM of the biggest team in the league make jokes on a TV broadcast about mental illness, I have heard the word “retard” thrown around like a volleyball, and I have heard “if you’re depressed, why don’t you jump off a bridge?” from a random person.

As a woman, I have been told that I can’t find a middle aged bloke asking for pictures of nubile young girls in the name of hockey cause for concern because I am too ugly to be an ice girl myself. I am told that the man behind one of the most beloved EIHL twitter accounts would rather sleep with a bag of used needles than sleep with me, even though I don’t recall sleeping with him ever being on the cards.

It goes on, and on. Using mental illness to bully. Using gay and all and sundry similies as a slur. Even down to using “woman” as an insult. Unfounded alcoholism jokes about a coach in the EIHL every week from the most popular EIHL fan humour accounts? We got those!

It doesn’t effect you, though. So why should you care? Because it might affect the person sat next to you. It might affect their kid. It might be keeping someone away who loves hockey but doesn’t feel welcome. Just because you don’t care, just because you think it’s a bit of a joke and people need to be less sensitive… doesn’t mean we all think that way.

People say “you can’t expect the real world to pander to you!” – I’m well aware of that, having lived in that real world for almost 33 years. That isn’t what I’m calling for. What I’m calling for is for people in the UK to feel safe at hockey games. The other one I hear a lot is “you can’t speak out and be noticeable if you don’t want comments!” How absurd is that – it’s on YOU, the one in the minority, to keep quiet so that people don’t abuse you, keeping the silence around it going so nothing changes, everyone continues to think they’re alone and nobody in charge has to lift a finger to help progress? No thanks. This responsibility is NOT on me.

What really gets me about inclusivity is that the EIHL has nothing whatsoever to lose by promoting it. They already promote a family friendly atmostphere, but in reality these days games are anything but. Just because you’re tough on swearing, it doesn’t mean hockey is any safer a space. If you’re going to crack down on swearing though, how difficult is it to try to stop the other kinds of abuse mentioned? You can police people swearing but you can’t police them saying “fag”? Dubious. Hard to believe.

I know what you’re thinking. All sports have problems like this! Yeah, they do – you’d have to be very naive indeed to not realise that football in particular has a massive racism problem. But I’m not writing about football, I’m writing about UK hockey. You would think a minority sport that relies so much on attendences staying decent would go out of its way to be more inclusive. You would think a minority sport wouldn’t be so dismissive of minorities.

And yet it is. And yet more and more people don’t feel welcome. And yet more potential new fans are put off. It starts to add up, and when you rely so much on gate receipts and sponsors to stay afloat, you really cannot afford to alienate people.

Oh, yes, that’s right – your sponsors are people too, EIHL. Your potential investors and overseas partners are people. People are diverse. People need to be respected. People, too, who regularly get insulted publicly by club officials with no comeback, as do fans and writers. You don’t have to like everyone. You don’t have to change you opinion, even. You just have to stop tolerating this sort of abuse in your rinks, by YOUR club representatives more than a few times.

If you can’t find it in your diaries or pockets to make sure your fans feel safe, then you’re gambling on the very thing that keeps your clubs afloat.

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