League hockey started on time this month PIC: UK Hockey Photos
League hockey started on time this month PIC: UK Hockey Photos

Fears have been raised over league hockey rule variations during local lockdown phases, coronavirus risks to players travelling and teams being punished for being unable to fulfill fixtures.

England and Irish hockey covid-19 rulings state that teams face forfeiting matches with a 3-0 defeat, while different league sanctions in Ireland include teams forfeiting home advantage and teams entitled to postpone a maximum of 20% of fixtures in England.

Teams in Cork did not travel to Dublin last weekend for Irish Hockey League fixtures, while there are now concerns in England, especially in the northern leagues, of teams facing travel to neighbouring regions dealing with local lockdowns.

The issue has been compounded by Hockey Wales being forced to suspend local leagues after a rise in coronavirus cases, while Welsh elite teams in English leagues are able to play fixtures in England, including English local lockdown areas.

A former Irish international criticised Hockey Ireland this week over potential sanctions levelled against teams who may be fearful of travelling to scheduled matches.

Replying to Irish Hockey’s regulations issued to clubs, Dr Cliodhna Sargent wrote on Twitter: “Wow! Really @irishhockey really. This is how you treat players and teams who Express concerns over a virus that has killed thousands and left many more very sick!! Very disappointing.”

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England Hockey rules regarding Covid-19 in local lockdown

— Where a team is subject to local restrictions due to the impact of Covid 19 that mean it is unable to fulfil a fixture it may choose to forfeit a fixture at no penalty other than the fixture being recorded as a 3-0 loss, subject to any further remission or penalty as imposed by the league, or request to postpone it.

— Where both teams are subject to local restrictions due to the impact of Covid 19 they may choose to postpone the fixture or forfeit it at no penalty other than the fixture being recorded as a 0-0 draw with one point awarded to each team, subject to any further remission or penalty as imposed by the league.

— A team will be entitled to postpone a maximum of 20% of scheduled and postponed fixtures due to unavailability of a home venue or players or a local lockdown. If they are unable to fulfil further fixtures these fixtures will have to be forfeited in line with the relevant regulation. This is in addition to any postponements due to a venue being unfit for play due to the weather.

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Hockey Ireland rules issued to clubs

— A team refusing to fulfil a fixture played under Hockey Ireland Return to Play protocols citing Covid-19 concerns shall be considered to have forfeit the fixture. The match will be recorded as a 5-0 loss for the defaulting team and the match awarded to the opposing team. The defaulting team will also forfeit home advantage in their next scheduled home fixture between the clubs.

— Where both teams refuse to fulfil a fixture a 5-0 loss will be recorded against both teams. Both teams will also forfeit home advantage for a future match. A club cannot gain an advantage from forfeiting a match.

— Where a team is subject to local restrictions due to the impact of Covid-19 that means it is unable to fulfil a fixture, it may request a postponement of the fixture. A team subject to local restrictions can apply to forfeit a match. If a forfeit is sanctioned a 3-0 loss will be recorded for the fixture and no further penalty imposed.

— Where both clubs are subject to local restrictions due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions they may request a postponement or apply to forfeit the fixture at no penalty other than the fixture being recorded as a 0-0 draw.”

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Meanwhile, coaches involved in top England regional hockey in the north have privately expressed concerns that players may be hesitant to admit to their own symptoms or those of their household, knowing it could cost their team. It comes after several coaches in the south would welcome suspension of the league.

One north west coach told THP: “Teams are already in a position where some players don’t want to travel to 3/4 hour away days because they don’t want the risk of 14 days off work (as an example), which obviously weakens squads and threatens quality of competition.

“Add this rule change in and it’s just ridiculous, punishing teams for having Covid will 100 per cent make people reluctant to come forward. This is just so so irresponsible and England Hockey appear happy to cause that.”

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In a statement, England Hockey told THP: “All local lockdowns that are in place set out the status of the continuation of sport and so far all continue to allow team sport to continue. We are following the medical evidence that has been approved at this level.

“The England Hockey Return to Play procedures clearly set out the expectations on clubs, and ask players to sign a Participation Agreement confirming they understand the guidance and agree to the circumstances. Covid rules have also been written and leagues have been encouraged to follow these, allowing clubs reasonable flexibility around postponing or reorganising games.”

EH said that “almost all” matches took place on the opening weekend with around two to three per cent not fulfilled, which the governing body said was “fairly normal”.

On an outcome of the Irish matches which weren’t played, Hockey Ireland said consequences have yet to be decided by officials. Clubs will be asked to make submissions as to why they didn’t show.

On Wednesday, Munster Hockey issued guidance if regions are placed into Level 3 restrictions – which includes recommended travel only for essential reasons. Any match that involves a team from an area that are in Level 3 restrictions will be postponed, the association said.

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