EY Hockey League clubs will have to source their own umpires for the opening round of matches next Saturday following an impasse between Hockey Ireland and the Irish Hockey Umpires Association (IHUA).
As of Sunday evening, issues between the two organisations have not been resolved with the IHUA not publishing any appointments for the opening weekend of the season.
As such, the Irish Hockey League Working Group has “made a decision to invoke the contingency plan to minimise disruption to the EYHL program while a resolution is sought between the two parties. We are seeking the clubs support and help to mitigate the impact and ensure the EYHL Round 1 happens as planned.”
This involves asking clubs to “take responsibility to provide an umpire for their game and to ask their nominated umpire to umpire their game this weekend”.
The impasse between the IHUA and Hockey Ireland centres on the former’s requests for greater supports for umpiring in Ireland which they feel is now deep in crisis.
Outlining the situation, the IHUA released a statement on September 8, saying they “are deeply disappointed at the continued failure of the Board of Hockey Ireland to take action concerning a number of important umpiring issues and more recently, through recommendations in our 4 Year Plan for Umpiring.”
The IHUA say they first highlighted the crisis in the number of qualified umpires six years ago. They now have 120 qualified umpires across the island with 92 of them over 40-years-old.
“In the next ten years, we expect to lose around 72 qualified umpires but who will replace them? The crisis we face stems firmly from the underfunding and under-resourcing in umpiring over many years and we believe the decline in qualified umpires is in part due to the low level of expenses that our umpires receive.”
In addition, they add that the current disciplinary procedures for abuse toward umpires and officials “are inadequate and not acceptable to the IHUA”.
“Despite bringing this issue to the Hockey Ireland Board for the past two years, and highlighting the negative consequence on our numbers and the game, this continues to be neglected. Umpires are simply turning their back on the game due to a lack of support.”
IHUA Chairman, Warren McCully commented: “Given the Board of Hockey Ireland’s total inaction over many months and years, as well as the failure to grasp a number of opportunities to deal with all these issues, the current situation is very unhealthy.
“We simply get ignored which is highly disrespectful to all qualified umpires who dedicate themselves to the sport. This is not a battle with the clubs, most of whom are very supportive to us, as we work closely together for the benefit of club hockey.
“Our members are bitterly disappointed at the prospect of not being involved in Irish competitions, which are due to commence this weekend, but they will continue to umpire at provincial level if that is the case.
“That said; our members fully understand the gravity of the situation and the wider consequences for the future of umpiring. If Hockey Ireland wants to properly discuss all the issues, we would welcome that but we will not be made scapegoats in this long running saga.”
Outlining their position, the IHUA statement added that they are willing to:
· Discuss the current umpire expenses issue and how the clubs can be helped with the additional costs (as previously requested).
· To agree the fees to be collected with the Board of Hockey Ireland, on behalf of the clubs, on an annual basis similar to other sporting organisations.
· To negotiate and provide assurances to clubs, through financial safeguards to ensure that fees are capped as appropriate, for forthcoming seasons.
Hockey Ireland Chief Executive Officer Jerome Pels said that the Board of Hockey Ireland cannot directly sanction the change in umpiring fees but must put this an AGM or Special General Meeting of Hockey Ireland for approval due to governance concerns.
“First and foremost, we do not believe that under the rules and regulations of Hockey Ireland- your proposal of introducing a cost or fee for umpiring can only be ratified or supported with a decision by the Board of Hockey Ireland.
“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.
“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.
“A proposal from the IHUA for payment of umpires would need to be put before the members at an AGM. The Board is not authorised to implement such policy without AGM approval.”
Pels added: “If you go to payment of match officials, the level of scrutiny on transparency and fairness will go up significantly. Sports governing bodies are under strict guidance by our funding agencies and our superior bodies with regard to checks and balances and transparency.
“A situation where ‘persons with significant control’ in an organisation make decisions that directly benefits themselves financially, would be unacceptable. IHUA as a body controlled and run by umpires, setting their remuneration fee and making decisions on who is the recipient of the fees, does not pass the current standards of good governance.
“This doesn’t mean that officials can’t be remunerated, it only means that the structure of responsibilities and control need to be fit for that purpose. We only need to look at other sports to learn from that. In addition, there are also issues of taxation.
“Last, but perhaps important as well, in your proposal you give examples of other sports where the umpires receiving compensation above their cost. In those examples, the financial strength or financial model of the competition – in short the economics- are very different from hockey.
“In those sports there is more money being generated through commercial activity of the clubs, gate revenues and rights deals. Hockey is (not yet) at this level.”
He cites the examples from Belgium and Austria where umpires are currently paid €50 plus expenses. In both countries, the national association sets the fee rather than the umpiring body.
Earlier today on September 11, Pels wrote directly to the clubs to update them on the situation.
In it, he stated: “The Board understands the proposal and the reasons explained by the IHUA for payment of umpires, however, the Board cannot support this without the approval of our members.
“The main change of policy is that the IHUA is proposing paying umpires feesabove the level of expenses. Such a change also has a significant impact to the costs of running hockey competitions for the Clubs.
“Hockey Ireland has proposed to the IHUA to facilitate a Special General Meeting on October 1 to deal with the IHUA proposals.”
The IHUA, though, reject the idea that an AGM is required to agree to a new fee structure:
“In response to your email, the IHUA Executive Committee does not accept the Board’s stance in relation to umpire expenses and would contest that there is no constitutional basis for the Board’s position regarding a proposal nor necessity for the issue to receive the approval of the membership.
“IHUA is a separate association, with a separate constitution and the money sought from clubs is merely to ensure that our members receive reasonable recompense for the time and cost associated with umpiring Hockey Ireland competitions.”
The letter to the clubs concluded that “these issues should not be an unwelcome disruption to all Irish competitions which are due to commence on 16th September 2017”.
But the lack of appointed officials for this weekend and the request for clubs to provide their own suggest that a major disruption will take place as the marquee league attempts to raise the curtain on the new year.
In addition, it will also raise concerns for the viability of IHL Division 2 next season with the increased volume of officials and travel required for officials.