RETURN TO PLAY: English Ice Hockey statement as new restrictions come into force

The Government has issued new Covid-19 guidance for indoor sport in England which has a major impact on the EIHA’s Return To Play protocol.

Following the announcement from the Prime Minister on 22 September, indoor ice hockey for under 18s and senior elite levels remain exempt from the ‘rule of six’ social distancing restrictions.

Coming into force from Thursday 24 September, adult indoor sport, other than at elite level, must only take place in groups of up to six people.

The board of EIHA has held discussions with Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), Sport England and other partner governing bodies to clarify what this means for our sport.

What indoor ice hockey activity currently can take place?

Elite level training – currently this only covers the Elite League (EIHL) but we are in discussions with DCMS about the definition of ‘elite’ and whether we can extend this definition to other competitions in the EIHA structure. This would still be at Return to Play Phase 3 but without the ‘rule of six’

Junior training – JLMC structure for u9, u11, u13, u15 and u18 can continue at Return to Play Phase 3 without the ‘rule of six’

Non-elite senior (including NIHL, WNIHL, Recreational and Universities) and U20 training in bubbles of up to six people (RTP Phase 3 but with six-person limit). Again we are investigating with DCMS the possibility of multiple groups of six using the ice pad which has been divided into multiple zones. These discussions are ongoing.

What indoor ice hockey activity currently cannot take place?
Any senior or junior competitive games
Non-elite senior training in groups of more than six people
Informal ‘scrimmage’ in groups more than six people

What does this mean for EIHA competitions?
While we remain in Phase 3 of our Return to Play, activity is limited to training only. There will be no competitive games played at this present time.

EIHA director Andrew Miller said: “While we are pleased that our junior players can continue unchanged, the new restrictions put a massive dent in our Return to Play pathway for the senior game in the EIHA structure.

“As we stand the NIHL and WNIHL as well as u20 juniors will not be able to train in groups of more than six people. This also extends to our recreational and university players. We are trying every possible avenue with DCMS to get as many players on the ice as is safely possible.

“I’m sure everyone will appreciate that the government department and our friends at Sport England have been very busy over the past 48 hours and we will continue our discussions with them to get a satisfactory way forward alongside other indoor sports with many of the same questions still outstanding.

“Everyone wants to get the sport back up and running – players, coaches, administrators, officials, parents – but we have to do that in a Covid-secure environment which does not put anyone at undue risk.