Belfast Giants abandon franchise after owner is revealed as registered sex offender

In January, the Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League (U.K.) – yep, the “All I Want For Christmas Is You” franchise – announced that American Christopher Knight had purchased the team, as Jim Gillespie sold a stake he had held since 2003.

It was supposed to be a new era for the Northern Ireland team. Alas, it was an era that ended only a few weeks later when it was revealed that Knight was actually a registered sex offender in Florida.

Knight, who made his money in the telecommunications industry, purchased the team for a reported £145,000 ($225,054.50 U.S.) in November, entering into an agreement with the Odyssey Trust, which owns and operates the Odyssey Arena. According to The Independent, Odyssey activated an out clause in its contract with the Giants after “major issues” about Knight came to light.

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Like the fact he was charged in 2003 with engaging in sexual activity with “a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age.”

Which, as you might imagine, isn't exactly the image the Belfast Giants are going for.

According to BBC News:

Knight, whose address is given on the Florida Department of Law enforcement website as West Sussex in England, was charged in 2003 with Lewd or Lascivious Battery.

This means he is alleged to have engaged in sexual activity with a person aged between 12 and 15, and he remains on the sex offenders register.

Watch BBC coverage of the story here.

From the State of Florida’s sexual offender database:

(Eerie twist: Former NHL star Theo Fleury, a survivor of sexual assault as a junior player, was a member of the Belfast Giants in 2006.)

You may notice that Knight is listed as being close to 40 years old. When he purchased the team, it was announced he was 34. But then again, there was a bit he wasn't up front with.

A deadline was set for last Friday for Knight to sell the team, and it passed. From the Independent:

At that point the trust terminated the holding agreement - a move which meant the company owned by Mr Knight - Belfast Giants (2008) Ltd - could no longer play at the Odyssey Arena. Within hours of that, the players wrote to Mr Knight claiming that their contracts were no longer in effect. The squad went on to play two games over last weekend - one of which was a charity fundraiser - on the understanding they were not contracted to any team.

Instead, the Giants abandoned their own team, and were “purchased” by the arena owners.

From the Belfast Giants, a statement from Brian Burke, Chairman of Odyssey Trust Ltd:

“We became aware of major issues relating to the new owner of the Belfast Giants on February 1st. We immediately moved to protect the Odyssey complex by conditionally terminating the Belfast Giants (2008) Ltd’s contract to play at the Arena while entering into a without prejudice agreement to ensure the team continued with its games and its commitment to the league and its fans until the end of the season.

“The Belfast Giants has been one of the most successful sports teams in Northern Ireland and an integral part of the success of the Odyssey Arena. 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. Today, the entire staff including players and administrators will be signed to an Odyssey Trust owned company permitting the team to finish the season and continue the battle to retain their title.

“This has not been an easy period for the Belfast Giants but it is highly commendable that the players, who were without contracts, fulfilled their commitment to the team’s two games this past weekend including helping to raise money for the team’s nominated charity at the match on Friday evening. We would also like to assure the loyal Belfast Giants’ fans that we are committed to protecting the excellent reputation and long-term future of the team.”

So, in essence, Christopher Knight owns a team that doesn’t have any players or an arena in which to play. Because his players and managerial staff collectively resigned.

Remember this next time you think about the NHL's rogues' gallery of owners.

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