In the end it comes down to one word. Respect.
There isn’t a sport going that will allow clubs free reign to criticise and abuse its referees or undermine its disciplinary processes with public attacks. Ice hockey is no different.
But it seems to have got itself mired in one heck of a spat over new escalating fines for repeat offenders.
The EIHL has always fined clubs or officials who cross the line with their criticism of referees
What IS new are the ramped up penalties for those who do it more than once.
The leap from £100 to £1000 for a second misdemeanour is hefty, while a £5000 fine for a third outburst will certainly sting.
It’ll be interesting to see if they are actually ever imposed, and, if so, what happens if a club simply says ‘nope, we’re not paying.’
That’d take us deep into uncharted territory ...
Social media has frothed over with claims of everything from attacks on free speech to fears that post-game interviews will be bludgeoned to little more than ‘the boy done well’ cliches.
On Saturday, Nottingham Panthers refused to make any personnel available for post-game media interviews for fear of a second fine.
That stance was dumb. They were making a point, and doing it very badly which, sadly, is par for the course in ice hockey.
In many sports you’d be fined for NOT speaking to the media. Somehow I doubt the EIHL has the stomach for that fight right now. It’d be fun if they did, mind you …
Clearly the new system has nipped, but since this is a self-governing league, the clubs really only have themselves to blame.
Their board brought in the fines, their chairman spoke out saying enough is enough, while his own team, Sheffield, copped for the heftiest punishment. Awkward.
That lack of autonomy is the faultline which runs throughout the EIHL. Clubs manage their own league while also placing self-interest at the top of their own priorities. No wonder things get messy and muddled.
In this case, however, clubs could, individually and collectively, change the culture of blame overnight.
They could state publicly they will not allow their staff - coaches, players or the volunteers who run their social media accounts - to undermine referees with highly personalised, derogatory comments.
They could issue a ‘respect’ message, and still discuss games and take a view on major incidents. There are many intelligent, articulate and engaging guys in the dressing-rooms more than capable of analysing a game while adhering to their club’s own guidelines.
And if one of them does let off steam and have a pop – and accept it’ll happen given the fact that the adrenalin is still fizzing when they face the media – then a measured view can be taken of what sanctions, if any, should apply.
The three strikes policy may be too rigid, but I suspect it was brought in to draw everyone into line and bring a halt to the carping.
If it does that, clubs then need to then get round the table and start formulating a clear policy that doesn’t just work for them - they can’t have it all ways - but for the good of the sport and all who are part of it. Big picture stuff – something the spot isn’t very good at.
It’s only in defeat that the refs are ever wrong. Funnily enough, a goalie who goofs, a defenceman who loses his rag, a forward who misses an open goal, and indeed coaches who get their lines hopelessly wrong can also contribute to points drifting out the rink. Strangely, they rarely get aired as reasons during the post game media interviews ...
The man in the stripey top with the raised arm is the easy scapegoat, but the more we demonise him, the more personal the abuse becomes – and social media is a cesspit at times – and the more clubs’ comments undermine their own disciplinary system, the more the sport eats itself alive.
That cannot be allowed to continue.
In short think first, then speak. It really shouldn’t that difficult ...