THE coronavirus will set the junior development programmes back by five years if ice rinks start to close, Scottish Ice Hockey chairman David Hand believes.

The impact on the sport has been laid bare as the pandemic has put a halt on any action in Scotland at youth levels for the time being and Hand does not expect things to improve any time soon with the SIH member clubs having to sit tight until they get the green light from the Scottish Government.

“We’re at phase three of our 'Return to Play' programme so that means kids under 12s can train with contact, but anything above that is just training and practicing at this moment in time,” he said. “When kids decide to leave the sport, they generally don’t come back and if rinks close, whatever hockey is in that rink, it would take five years to get back to normality as they go and find something else to do.

“It’s been testing for us as an organisation, not to mention the members and the clubs, and I’ve been dealing with the rink managers and SportScotland in trying to find a way of getting everyone back before we start losing kids to anything else.

“The effect on junior development is going to be huge and I anticipate losing 20 per cent of our members. We’ve provided online videos and virtual training, which has been a good thing, but it’s been demanding and stressful for all of us at the forefront of this crisis.

“The way things are going, I expect things will get worse before they get better and we’ve decided all senior hockey will be stopped until 2021, but hopefully we can get some junior hockey started up as soon as possible.”

Hand had hoped to get the Scottish National League, the top level in Scotland, up and running after the Elite League was suspended, but that plan has hit the buffers. He has also been trying to bring in some financial assistance through SportScotland.

“We can only try and plan, but when the announcements come, we have to change them and it’s hard to put a structure in place until we get some definitive recommendations from SportScotland and the Scottish Government in how we can get back to playing again,” he said.

“We’re sad we can’t get on the ice and we’ve had to cancel finals days and league deciders. Things were starting to pick up a couple of weeks ago when we thought we would be up and running again and get into phase four.

“I hoped the SNL would be up and running before the New Year in light of the decision to suspend the Elite League, but that won’t be the case any more so all the clubs have been instructed they won’t play this calendar year.

“As a body, we’ve looked into financial assistance, but we’ve been told Sport Scotland have nothing for us. We’ve asked, but been told there’s nothing available. Any money we would have got would have gone directly to the clubs to keep them going until they can get back on the ice.

“We’re not cash rich, but we’re doing our best to keep everything afloat as much as we can and keep the kids we have at all levels.”