Giant Problem

British ice hockey was rocked last night as it was revealed that Belfast Giants have new owners due to the revelation that former owner Christopher Knight is alleged to be a convicted sex offender in the US state of Florida (Knight claims it is in error and the actual website has the adjudication as “withheld”). Giants players and staff resigned from their contracts with Knight in protest and a new company was set up to run the club. The players iced over the past weekend without contracts before signing with new ownership group Odyssey Trust on Monday [UTV News].

The Northern Ireland editions of both The Sun & Daily Mirror pulled no punches in their front page headlines of the story this morning. ‘Giants Boss Is Peado’ read The Mirror while The Sun went with ‘Belfast Giants Owner is Sex Perv’. They say no publicity is bad publicity, however this is bad! The sensationalist headlines will not have helped endear hockey to the average person!

The usual suspects have been lining up to have an all too predictable pop at the league, the Giants and anyone else that strengthens their anti-Elite agenda. They claim this does untold damage to hockey in this country but I don’t agree, I think the game and especially the Giants will come out of this stronger. While questions do need to be asked about the due-diligence process that exists (or doesn’t) within the EIHL, this can wait until later. What is important is that the new Giants ownership are allowed to steady the ship while the story continues to unfold. It is a valid question as to why this wasn’t picked up by the Giants and also why was allowed to enter the UK in the first place with such a conviction (it does appear he is a British citizen, however this has not been confirmed as yet), however the morality and principles of individuals and institutions have been steadily declining for years and the stance of the Belfast Giants players and staff is to be applauded and respected. They put their livelihoods on the line over a matter of principle and I have nothing but respect for them and I think many others will have too. They may have played at the weekend out of contract but frankly, who cares? If the club are punished for this then something is very, very wrong but thankfully they have the full backing of the Elite League judging by this statement.

There remains the prospect that Knight will take legal action against the new club. It has been reported that he paid previous owner Jim Gillespie £145,000 for the club which he will no doubt want back. The law is probably on the side of Mr Knight, however should he win such a case, would anyone want to support or watch a team run by him? Judging by the players reactions there doesn’t appear to be many wanting to play for him either.

I spoke to Giants fan Patrick Smyth from the A View From The Bridge podcast for his thoughts on the situation the club now find themselves in “You can have little but admiration for the morality of the decision, but it certainly leaves many unanswered questions. Should the allegations about Knight be correct, how was such a sale allowed to take place so quickly and without judgement of his character or suitability to own what is quite a high profile organisation in Northern Irish Sport.
In the short term the headlines will cause damage to the profile of the Giants and as time passes people will still take these headlines as a matter of current news, believing Knight to still be a controlling factor of the Giants. It is up to the new regime to counter this and ensure the Giants prevail in the manner their reputation to date has built.
As Giants fans I think we need to throw our full support behind the team on the ice. For the team to portray a ‘business as usual’ façade while turmoil raged in the boardroom quite admirable, but hopefully as the ship begins to steady the Giants can strengthen in their bid to retain the Elite League title.”.

Sadly I don’t think this story is going to go away anytime soon but I for one am very pleased the Giants have taken the stance they have and I feel they deserve the full support of the British hockey community during this troubled time.


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