A silly question


The silly or ‘trick’ question is one that I heard in my school days. I think it was first widely spread from the book ‘Hockey Umpiring’ by the renowned Indian FIH Umpire Gian Singh, which was published in 1958.

“A shot is taken at the goal by an attacker from inside the circle. As a result the cork of the ball passes between the goal-posts, under the crossbar and over the goal-line, whereas the leather cover passes over the base-line outside the goalposts. What should the umpire award?”

There were later variations on this theme with the ball splitting into two halves along the seam (common with the Victor ‘plastic’ ball) or shattering into two or more large pieces (when poorly composed ‘PVC’ balls were used). Obviously a goal cannot be awarded when this happens because the ball has not completely crossed the goal-line. A different slant on the usual understanding of ‘completely’, which normally referred to the ball (as a unit) entirely crossing the complete width of a goal-line and not being in contact with or overhanging part of the goal-line.

A different but equally old ‘silly question’, one which has a very obviously wrong answer other than “Goal” (and not “Penalty corner”), is-

What should the decision be if the ball touches the foot of a defender when the ball is hit wide of the goal by an attacker and then continues on out of play before any intervention by any other player is possible?

In these circumstances there can be no advantage gained by the defending team because if the ball-foot contact had not occurred the ball would have gone out of play, resulting in a 15m to defending the team. And if the ball-foot contact was unintended, there is no justification at all for the award of a penalty corner. Currently of course, following the discontinuation of the corner (previously known as the long corner), in these circumstances, a free ball restart to the attacking team should be awarded on the 23m line opposite to the place the ball went out of play…..

…….unless the on-pitch official happens to be an FIH Umpire.



The first penalty corner shown awarded in the video clip is awarded correctly, because a defender, albeit accidentally, raised the ball towards a close opponent (within 5m) and hit him with the ball – technically a dangerous play offence  (but not with current umpiring practice – see the play from another tournament – if the ball is deliberately lifted into a defender in the circle by an attacker).

There is an apparent bias against defenders who make ball-body contact in their own circle, even if the contact is illegally forced by an opponent – see video below – because it seems this leads to ‘spectacular hockey’ – i.e. penalty corners (drag-flicks) – and generally to more goals being scored.


The second and third penalty corners in the initial video follow the scenario of the second ‘silly question’ above. The shot from the second penalty corner, improbably, hitting the foot of the defender in exactly the same way as the shot from the first penalty corner did. The umpire did not feel a need to consult again to award a third penalty corner, he made a consistent, but incorrect, decision about a ball-foot contact and penalised the defender for a second time.

There were a total of five penalty corners awarded in close sequence at this time during the match, only one of which (the first) can be said with certainty to have been awarded correctly. Three were clearly incorrectly awarded (two glanced off the foot of a defender, with the foot that was hit positioned wide of the goal and close to – almost on – the base-line and the ball continued out of play; one was awarded as the result of an intentionally forced ball-foot contact by an opponent).

This is not an unusual ratio of correct to incorrect in the awarding of penalty corners; that’s a 60% – 80% error rate. Most error arises from penalising ball-foot contact which has been deliberately forced by an opponent – instead of allowing play to continue or, if the ball was raised, instead of penalising the player who did the forcing  – or arises from penalising unintentional contact when there is no advantage gained by the team of the player hit with the ball as happened when the second and third penalty corners seen in the video were awarded.

Here is an example of a similar mistake by an umpire (and a player) made in open play during an EHL match. Umpires have trained players (by previous decision making) to expect this kind of decision and to regard it as normal practice and correct umpiring, i.e. in compliance with Rule  – when it is not.


The decision making methods of the top level umpires are cascaded to those at the lower levels – few appear to have read a rule-book and none are seen to regularly comply with the wording of the published Rule and its Explanation of Application. Some even argue (on an Internet hockey forum) that the explanation/instruction provided by the FIH Rules Committee in regard to the application of Rule 9.11 is not the Rule Proper but merely advice or notes and can therefore be disregarded.

I am unconvinced by such argument because the same people take an entirely different approach to the Explanation of Application provided with other Rules (and even to some long deleted Interpretation), and also because I do not accept that the FIH Rules Committee produced the Rule Explanations provided in the rule-book with the expectation or acceptance that some of them would be ignored or countermanded by Umpire Coaches or Umpire Managers or Tournament Directors – or by umpire coaching/briefing produced and published by the FIH Umpiring Committee.

The FIH Rules Committee, with the approval of the FIH Executive, is the sole Hockey Rules authority and cannot be overruled by any other individual (not even by one or more of its own Members) or by any other FIH body (committee). The FIH Executive went to the trouble of reminding all National Associations of that fact in a FIH Circular in 2001 – another reminder appears to be required.





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