Announcement from NIHL teams
Representatives of the ten NIHL National teams met online recently to continue our ongoing series of planning sessions and we would like to update you on progress so far.
We are pleased to confirm that we have all together agreed to set a target start date for the NIHL National league of 1st January 2021. In addition to this, there was collective agreement to aim to play hockey matches during late November and through December with a series of challenge games and a pre-season cup competition. Details of the length of the regular season and the format of the cup competition and pre-season challenges will be shared once they are finalised.
Having these dates in the diary gives the opportunity for teams to start to put in place the arrangements needed to safely and effectively return to play. It is important to note that these are planning dates, and are subject to a number of points being resolved before teams can take to the ice. For example:
1. It is highly likely that social distancing rules will still be in place and that this may restrict attendances. Whether this is a fixed number (e.g. 800) or a percentage of a venue’s capacity, (e.g. 40%) is still to be determined and will be led by local and national Government guidelines, the findings from various non-Ice Hockey test events taking place and EIHA policy. The level at which attendance is restricted will be critical as to whether it is financially viable for teams to compete.
2. Some arenas are still without ice and venues would need to be operational for fixtures to take place so we are dependent on plans to re-lay ice in those venues.
3. We will be consistently adopting across all NIHL venues and fixtures a defined set of COVID protocols around access and exit, locker room provision, cleanliness etc. These processes need to be finalised, agreed and rolled out. This work has now started.
4. A flexible fixtures model needs to be developed to accommodate as simply as possible any fixture changes (e.g. through local lockdown), or changes to the overall season structure. This work has now started.
5. The EIHA’s return to ice programme needs to have reached Level 5 for the season to begin, and at least level 4 for pre-season activities to take place.
The agreement of a planned regular season start date and the intent to run a pre-season cup competition is a very positive step in the journey of the return to live action in the UK of the game we all love. Although there are a number of hurdles to overcome, we are committed to working together, as all NIHL National teams, to do whatever we can to overcome these obstacles.
The owners group will be meeting again later in September to progress these plans further and we will share updates as clearly as possible as plans develop. We’d all like to thank you for your continued support and patience and your love of the game. We’ll be back on the ice as soon as we can.
Andrew Miller, director responsible for the NIHL said: “The communication from the NIHL National clubs outlines many of the challenges our sport faces in returning to relative normality.
“Our plans are still to allow activity in a COVID-secure way, approved by DCMS, to take place in advance of January 1 and we will be working with the whole of the National Ice Hockey League to bring back competition at the appropriate time.”
The sport in England is currently at Phase 3 of the five-step Return to Play plan, this began on Monday August 31.
Phase 4 would allow challenge matches to take place but not with spectators in the buildings. An update on the plan for Phase 4 is expected very soon. The league and EIHA appreciate that although nationally the plan is at Phase 3, some rinks have yet to reopen so conversations continue to proceed as quickly but safely as possible.