Irish hockey season held up over umpiring dispute
Disagreement over payment of expenses leads to postponement of opening weekend matches
Hockey Ireland chief executive officer Jerome Pels. Photograph: Rowland White/Inpho/Presseye
Hockey Ireland hopes to find a swift resolution to an increasingly bitter dispute that has forced the postponement of the first weekend of national league matches across the country for the first time in its 10-season history.
Both men’s and women’s EY Irish Hockey League (IHL) games have been called off because officials were not appointed to the matches by the Irish Hockey Umpires Association (IHUA).
This came about primarily over disagreement about the payment of expenses with the IHUA also claiming umpiring in Ireland is ‘deep in crisis’.
It is an embarrassing start to the new season for Hockey Ireland with many of the Irish women’s team and men’s Olympic athletes ready to play their first club games of the season.
When officials were not appointed for the matches by the IHUA, Hockey Ireland went to the clubs for assistance. However, it was unsuccessful in getting the required numbers to cover the weekend programme of four women’s and four men’s matches.
Having considered costs and planning as well as the potential for a divisive situation to occur between clubs if only some games were played, Hockey Ireland postponed all matches.
A letter written by the IHUA on September 8th outlined an historical dimension to the disagreement stretching back over a number of years.
“The IHUA Executive Committee would again draw attention to the failure of the Board of Hockey Ireland to address the umpire expense issue over the last 7 years and to honour an agreement made during formal discussions on the matter 4 years ago. The season is due to commence in a few days however much uncertainty prevails,” it stated.
If anyone was in doubt about what the umpires want, the letter continued. “For absolute clarity, IHUA needs to collect fees in order to reimburse our umpires for their match-day costs.”
Hockey Ireland CEO Jerome Pels said on Thursday that discussions to find a resolution before next weekend, when round two of IHL matches are scheduled, are ongoing.
“Hockey Ireland regrettably had to decide that this weekend’s programme of matches will have to be postponed as the clubs have not been notified of their appointed umpires for their matches,” said Pels.
“We hope that the club, the players, members and sponsors appreciate that this has been a difficult decision and has not been made lightly.”
Pels previously told hockey website The Hook that paying umpires is unlikely.
“Hockey in Ireland has up to this point run as a volunteer driven sport. A change in major policy – paying officials – is not something currently in any endorsed policy or strategy,” he said.
“Such change is not supported at this stage by the board as the board feels the proposal – as presented – is very unlikely to be supported at club [member] level.”