“It’s still my Team” claims beleaguered Belfast Giants owner Meanwhile club continues push to post season

BELFAST, N. Ireland – Christopher Knight has come out fighting after the players and staff of the Belfast Giants walked out on his company after it was revealed he is registered as a sex offender in the United States.

In an interview published in the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday 21st February, Mr Knight claims that officials at the Giants were told about him being on a sex offender’s register in Florida at the time of him purchasing a controlling stake in the Elite League Ice Hockey club.

It was in October 2012 that Mr Knight paid a reported £145,000 for controlling stake in the Belfast Giants from former owner Jim Gillespie.

“I informed them about the register because I never wanted to find myself in this situation. I was told they supported me,” Mr Knight told the Telegraph.

He went on to say the reason the deal wasn’t made public straight away was because the team didn’t want negative publicity.

Acting General Manager, Todd Kelman, denied that anyone at the club new anything about the charges brought against Mr Knight.

“No one from the Giants or the former owner Jim Gillespie knew. To even suggest that we had known anything about this is absolutely ludicrous and absurd,” Kelman told the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Kelman claims he only found out about the charges three weeks ago and the players shortly after that. The result of the resignations meant that the players played two games last weekend without getting paid but decided to continue with the games.

“And honour their commitment to the fans, the league and to the charity that was benefitting from the jersey raffle and fundraising at Friday night’s match,” (Belfast Giants website, Monday 18th February 2013).

The charges that brought about Mr Knight signing the register refer back to an incident in 2003 when, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Christopher Charles Knight was charged, on the 4th December 2003, with two counts of Lewd, Lascivious Battery; Sex with victim aged 12 to 15. Although, as Mr Knight refers to in his interview, Belfasthis file states that the adjudication was withheld, he was still required to sign the sex offenders register and inform law enforcement officers of his whereabouts thereafter.

It was these charges that the players and staff claim they only found out about last week and caused them to make the decision to walk away from their contracts with Belfast Giants (2008) Limited and with Mr Knight.

This was the point that the Odyssey Trust stepped in.

The trust is responsible for operating, among other venues, the Odyssey Arena, home of the Belfast Giants. On Monday, 18th February 2013, the trust offered the players and staff new contracts to enable them to finish the season, a season in which the Giants are still in contention for the league title and the end of season playoff crown as well.

The trust also attempted to purchase the franchise from the current owner but this offer was rejected.

“Since this news emerged, we have done all in our powers to protect the integrity of the team and ensure the future of professional ice hockey in Belfast. Last week we offered to purchase the assets of Belfast Giants (2008) Ltd , this was not responded to leaving us with no alternative other than to secure the name and brand of the team and create a new company structure by which the team could continue to play,” (Belfast Giants website, Monday 18 February 2013). That was what Trust Chairman Brian Burke said following the announcement of the players signing with the trust.

So what’s next?

Well as far as the players are concerned they will move onto the next round of games and the race for the league title. The staff will continue to run the club as before but this time under the guidance of the Odyssey Trust with the trust paying the wages.

What about Christopher Knight?

As stated above he still claims to be the owner of the Belfast Giants and told the Belfast Telegraph that he is threatening legal action over moves to take control of the team away from him.

Throughout the interview he denied the charges against him and made it clear that his legal team are working to have his name removed from the list.

Mr Knight says that his company owns the name of the team, logo, equipment and even the sticks the players use and the jerseys they wear.

However Todd Kelman says, “Mr Knight is the owner of Belfast Giants (2008) Limited, a company that has held (the) lease terminated by the Odyssey Trust to play in their arena on February 6. Now he has a company with no players, no arena to play in and no staff” (Belfast Telegraph).

As for the Elite League they appear to be backing the players, coaches and staff in their stance against Christopher Knight.

Finally, however this episode in Giants’ history plays out it will leave a number of questions, questions that have been asked in other sports and have brought about new measures to ensure that owners are fit and proper to own, in many such cases, Premier League and Football League Clubs.

Todd Kelman is quoted, in the Irish Central newspaper, as claiming the takeover by Mr Knight took place “Too Fast”. So the question has to be asked if the Elite League has any such process in place to ensure the future owners of their teams are the right people for the job. Are they able to do background checks on the people to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Yes hindsight is a wonderful thing but it didn’t take long for this journalist to find out who Christopher Knight is, is current residence and what he was charged with and on what date. Surely the league can undertake something similar to ensure the safety of the staff employed by the teams and, of course, the integrity of the league itself?

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