The Odyssey Trust, owners of the Stena Line Belfast Giants, can confirm that the 2020-21 EIHL season has been suspended. The Elite League was scheduled to start on December 5th, with a Magic5 weekend in Nottingham. Regrettably, current government guidelines on mass gatherings and social distancing mean this will not be possible.
Over the last six months, we have been working hard with the other nine teams in the League to facilitate a return to play for the 2020-21 season. We are extremely disappointed that we are unable to find a model that is economically viable, meets all government guidelines and is safe for our fans and players.
Sadly, having a full EIHL season starting in 2020 with 10 teams is now beyond us. The League is looking into the possibility of some form of ice hockey potentially taking place in the UK in early 2021, but this may not include all teams and is dependent on crowds being allowed back inside venues.
Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the sport, leisure and entertainment sectors. This will be the first time in our 20-year history that the Giants will miss a season.
The Odyssey Trust is committed to the future of hockey in Belfast – with the Giants, as well as the Friendship Four NCAA competition. Therefore, the focus will now turn to implementing our return to business strategy for the 2021/22 Elite League season.
We informed our players very early during this pandemic that we were not going to hold them back from finding other opportunities and have kept them updated on our conversations with the Elite League Board.
We have retained a core team of non-playing staff, so that we are ready to rebuild a new team when the time comes, and our recruitment will now focus on the 2021/22 Elite League season.
This pandemic has been challenging for all of us and whilst we are disappointed not to be playing this season, we do understand that there are factors far bigger than hockey at play in the world right now.
Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Odyssey Trust said:
“Thanks to the Belfast Giants, ice hockey is now a mainstream sport of choice for many people in Northern Ireland. In the land of the Giants everyone is equal, regardless of class, creed or gender and that’s what make us special to so many of our fans, sponsors and supporters. Unfortunately, Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate either and we have been hit extremely hard by this virus. As a tier five business, we will be amongst the last to re-open.”
“We are committed to safeguarding the future of the Belfast Giants and will prepare to return for the 2021-22 season, but Covid-19 still poses a very serious threat to our business. We are doing everything we can to mitigate this threat, but we also need government to step up and provide vital support to protect the future of our industry, which contributes so much, not just in significant economic impact but also as part of the cultural and social fabric of our city.”
Over the next few months, we will miss Hockey Night in Belfast at the SSE Arena and we know you will too. Right now, we ask that you take care of yourselves and your families. We will get through this and can’t wait to be back on the ice again. In the meantime, we are planning a range of initiatives to keep the Belfast Giants community spirit alive and well.
Steve Thornton, Head of Hockey and Commercial, the Odyssey Trust said:
“We hoped that this day would not come and it’s with a heavy heart that we confirm that the League has been suspended. It’s very disappointing but given the circumstances, there was no other option. We, like many clubs, have reached the point of no return for a 2020 start to the season; we need to start committing to significant expenses to build a team and with no government guidance on the timeline for the reintroduction of indoor sports events and mass gatherings, we simply can’t take that risk.”
“We understand how difficult this news is going to be for our incredible fans, some of whom haven’t missed a game in 20 years. We want to assure you that we will do everything possible to bring ice hockey back to this amazing city at the earliest possible opportunity and that we will work hard to keep the Belfast Giants family connected, through a range of fan initiatives and events, which we will be announcing soon.”
“We will be recording a special edition of A View from the Bridge this week and would invite fans to share any questions they have with us via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will endeavour to get through as many fan questions, as possible.”