WITH a loss to Italy last Sunday, Great Britain’s senior men’s team were knocked out of the Olympic Pre-Qualifiers in Cortina. It’s not the first time they’ve come up short – in fact, they’ve not qualified for the Olympic finals in almost 70 years. And yet, just 12 years prior to that last appearance in 1948, they won Olympic gold.

With a winless last-place finish back in the 1994 World Championships marking their most recent top-level international outing, Team GB’s recent disappointment has sparked some renewed discussion about where we’re going wrong.

“You’re not easy people,” explained International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel. Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live during the recent tournament, he described the potential for ice hockey to become a major sport in the UK, with a strong national team. But trying to help UK governing body IHUK realise that potential is, in his words, a headache.

Fasel believes conflicting interests between bodies in UK hockey is one of the main issues holding the sport back, with a lack any unified vision or desire for progress.

Responding to Fasel’s remarks, IHUK chairman Richard Grieveson said he would seek advice and opinion from figures involved in all areas of the sport to produce a new action plan for improvement across all levels.

So what can be done?

One obvious short-term fix would be to increase dual-nationals in the GB squad. We iced just one Canadian dual-national in Cortina, compared to the five on the Italy team that eliminated us. I’m not saying I’d want to see an all-Canadian Team GB – which, by the way, is how we won that Olympic gold medal in 1936 – but a few more Canucks would go a long way.

Greater international success wouldn’t just be good for raising the sport’s profile in the UK, but might lead to better funding. At present, ice hockey is not recognised by UK Sport – and so receives no Olympic support. If an improved Team GB could gain this recognition, the funding would amplify that success – with the investment and enthusiasm trickling down to stimulate grassroots development.

And that lack of youth development is the real area holding GB back. It comes down to money; as in other leagues, EIHL clubs are entertainment businesses, concerned with ensuring revenue. By allowing high import levels, the club owners who run the EIHL guarantee a high-level of play, entertaining hockey and good ticket sales.

But flooding the league with top North American talent leaves little room for Brits. At present, Canadian and American players outnumber Brits in the EIHL 130 to 74, with just 11 of the top 100 point-scorers this season holding a British passport.

This high level of imports, although often good for business, limits the opportunities for young Brits and, with little chance of breaking into the top league, it diminishes any incentive to push for a career in hockey. Add to this the lack of any cross-over competitions between the EIHL and lower leagues to give Brits the chance of top-tier play.

EIHL clubs choosing profitability over youth development is understandable – helping to foster a culture of ice hockey as a sport, rather than entertainment, isn’t always in harmony with running their business.

The path to realising the UK’s potential, as I see it, does seem a little paradoxical. Sure, increasing the number of dual-nationals in the GB squad is a step back in a sense, but by improving our rankings and gaining the support of Sport UK, the knock-on effect to grassroots development could be enormous. In time, EIHL import limits could come down to allow a new crop of homegrown talent to flourish in the league and perhaps then, Team GB might stand a chance without having to rely on foreign help.

Ice hockey’s transition in the UK from entertainment to a sport could take some time. For certain, growing hockey in this country will require the EIHL, IHUK, and IIHF to work together – but as Fasel says, this venture is proving to be bit of a headache.