Leeds Chiefs Sunday clash with Milton Keynes Lightning cancelled over coronavirus fears

LEEDS CHIEFS’ NIHL National home game against Milton Keynes Lightning on Sunday evening has been cancelled, after their opponents decided not to travel over fears at the worsening coronavirus situation.

By Phil Harrison
Sunday, 15th March 2020, 12:02 pm
Leeds Chiefs' game against Milton Keynes Lightning on Sunday, March 15 has been cancelled. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.
Leeds Chiefs' game against Milton Keynes Lightning on Sunday, March 15 has been cancelled. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

The Chiefs, who lost 5-1 at Swindon Wildcats on Saturday night to extend their losing streak to six games, were scheduled to play their Buckinghamshire rivals for the eighth and final time at Elland Road.

In a statement on their Facebook page, put out in the early hours of Sunday morning, the Chiefs said they were contacted by the Lightning late on Saturday night to inform them they would not be travelling to Leeds for the game.

The Lightning, who last night beat Sheffield Steeldogs 11-5 at home, later released a statement of their own stating that players' growing concerns over the continued coronavirus crisis were behind the decision.

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Leeds Chiefs' captain Luke Boothroyd battles during a clash at Milton Keynes earlier this season. Picture courtesy of Tony Sargent.

The top-tier Elite League took the decision on Friday to cancel its season in light of coronavirus, partly because two different teams had reported having players in self-isolation and with large crowds expected at a number of games during what is a crunch time of the campaign.

But, with no such reports among their own teams and having significantly smaller crowds than their EIHL counterparts, the English Ice Hockey Association - who runs the NIHL National division - decided its games would continue this weekend in accordance with government guidelines outlined earlier in the week.

Later on Sunday morning, Bracknell Bees followed suit and called off their trip to Sheffield Steeldogs over the same concerns. The NIHL National division’s three other games scheduled for Sunday are still set to go ahead although, as has been seen in recent days, that situation could quickly change. It's thought this weekend could be the last second-tier action altogether, with EIHA bosses set for further discussions.

It's not clear if Milton Keynes informed league bosses of their decision before contacting Leeds, but no statement has been made by the EIHA over the cancelled fixture.

A Chiefs’ spokesman said in a statement on the club's Facebook page: “We were very surprised when the Milton Keynes Lightning contacted us to tell us they wouldn’t be travelling to the game in Leeds on Sunday.

“The National League teams have been in close communication all week regarding the situation surrounding COVID-19, and during these discussions the MK Lightning view was that the league should follow government advice and continue to compete until we are required to cease.

“This view was shared by the other nine teams in the league and it was agreed by all the National League teams that all games this weekend would take place as planned.”

Later, Lightining captain Russell Cowley, issued a statement through the club, in which he said: "With recent events of Covid-19, we, the players of MKL, met after our game against Sheffield.

"As a group, we have extremely high levels of concern that travelling would not only put us at risk as players, but more importantly to our young families, pregnant partners, and close contact with elderly family members. It would be selfish of us to even consider putting those around us at risk.

"Therefore, as a group of players, we have chosen not to travel tomorrow for the away game against Leeds. Many of us, if any, have never been in a position like this before. While we certainly appreciate that this is far from ideal for Leeds as an organisation, and their players, we aren’t going to make a decision to put life at risk for a game of hockey.

"Important to us also, is following government guidance, which travelling would only counteract. We hope our fans, Leeds fans and players, share and support our stance in this difficult time.”

The Chiefs’ statement added that the club would be in touch with fans who had purchased tickets in advance of the game.

“Fans who have already bought tickets for the game are asked not to contact the rink at this stage but can be confident that the Leeds Chiefs will be in contact with them in the near future once the Chiefs administration team are available to take the required action.”