Archive for March 2nd, 2018

March 2, 2018

Hitting the ball illegally


Aside from ‘back-sticks’ there are two types of illegal hit according to the Rules of Hockey.
1) A hard forehand edge hit.
2) The intentional raising of the ball with any type of hit stroke unless shooting at the opponents’ goal from within their circle.

9.6 Players must not hit the ball hard on the forehand with the edge of the stick.

This does not prohibit use of the edge of the stick on the forehand in a controlled action in a tackle, when raising the ball in a controlled way over an opponent’s stick or over a goalkeeper or player with goalkeeping privileges who is lying on the ground or when using a long pushing motion along the ground.

9.9 Players must not intentionally raise the ball from a hit except for a shot at goal.

A raised hit must be judged explicitly on whether or not it is raised intentionally. It is not an offence to raise the ball unintentionally from a hit, including a free hit, anywhere on the field unless it is dangerous. If the ball is raised over an opponent’s stick or body on the ground, even within the circle, it is permitted unless judged to be dangerous.

Players are permitted to raise the ball with a flick or scoop provided it is not dangerous. A flick or scoop towards an opponent within 5 metres is considered dangerous.

Both of the above Rules require an umpire to make a subjective judgement. Rule 9.6. requires the judgement  of ‘hard’ and Rule 9.9. of ‘intentional’ and therefore despite some very clear objective criteria, in much the same way as the Obstruction Rule and the ball body contact/dangerous play Rules, 9.6 and 9.9 are seldom applied as they should be, if at all.

The subjective criteria in both of these Rules could and I think should, be replaced with a more appropriate objective criterion to improve application. I see no good reason that all intentional raising of the ball with a hit stroke should be prohibited (unless making a shot at the opponent’s goal from within their circle) – in fact that seems back-to-front to me. I do see reason to prohibit raising the ball at high velocity towards another player who is within 15m of the player hitting (or drag-flicking) the ball and that prohibition could reasonably depend on a height criterion – elbow or sternum height together with ball velocity.

I believe that in the area outside the circle an absolute limit should be placed on the height to which a ball can legally be raised with a hit if not propelled towards an opponent – this would prevent the making of the pitch length hits which were popular in the mid 1980’s (and which led to the imposition of the present prohibition on an intentionally raised hit) and the dangers which accompanied the making of those hits (by players without the necessary skill) would be avoided. I think shoulder height would be a suitable absolute limit. So in the circle a hit shot (or drag flick) at the goal would not be height limited unless the ball was propelled towards another player – in which case it would be limited to sternum height. The word intentionally could be struck out of the Rule, so what is penalised is a prohibited action (an observable incident) not the intention to carry out that action.

Two other amendments are necessary. Raising the ball with a hit to propel the ball away from the hitter’s control (therefore allowing what are called 3D dribbling skills) and into the opponent’s circle to be prohibited (together with abolishing the present restriction on playing the ball into the opponent’s circle from a free ball awarded in their 23m area). Edge hits, both fore and reverse, to be height limited – to either knee height or sternum height – the word ‘hard’ (subjective) could then be struck out. I would go further and abolish the offence of back-sticks, but that may be too much of a change for some to swallow although it would  make no difference at all to the way hockey is now played and would expand stick-work skills by expanding the available skill options.

In the following video there are nine examples of an illegal hit stroke incident shown, only the eighth incident (which comprised of three concurrent offences, a forehand edge hit, intentional raising of the ball with a hit and dangerous play – raising the ball towards an opponent who was within 5m, and injuring him) was penalised. I have written brief description of the action in each incident and a comment for each below.

1) From a 23m restart following the ball going out of play over the base-line, the first ARG player passes the ball backwards to a team-mate who uses what looks to be a forehand edge-hit in an attempt to raise the ball into the circle. The raised ball is accidentally deflected up and out of play over the base-line by a defender. The umpire having not noticed the illegal action of the ARG hitter (or having ignored it) awards another 23m restart for the attackers.

2) This incident occurred during a shootout, with both umpires positioned close to the play, presumably to ensure Rule compliance and fair play. The illegal hard forehand edge-hit was ignored (not seen?) and a goal awarded.

3) A free ball awarded to the ARG team about 1m outside the 23m line was hit hard and raised with forehand edge-hit. The ball struck a defending ESP player positioned just outside the circle, on the leg. The umpires, not noticing or ignoring these two offences (I cannot suggest that FIH Umpires are unaware of these Rules) award a free ball to ARG for the ball-leg contact. It is difficult to see what advantage, if any, the ESP team gained from the accidental ball-leg contact.

4) I am not sure if this hit was from a free ball taken inside the 23m line, but if it was the ball should not have been played directly into the circle at all. The BEL attacker uses a hard forehand edge hit to raise the ball into the circle, clearly to the disadvantage of the NZ team because a NZ player deflects the raised ball into the body of a team-mate. There is no evidence of any advantage gained by the NZ team because of the  ball-body contact  had the contact not occurred it seems probable that the ball would have gone into the possession of the NZ team. The offences of the player making the illegal hit were ignored and a penalty corner was awarded.

5) EHL match. The right flank (light blue) player uses a hard forehand edge hit to raise the ball into the circle – which was to the disadvantage of the defending team. These two offences were not penalised.

6) The picture quality on this video is poor. Not a forehand edge hit but an AUS player intentionally raises the ball with a hit into the circle. The illegally raised ball travels at about chest height towards an IND defender who is about 5m away.  The  IND player parries the ball with his stick and deflects it to another AUS attacker who is positioned near to the baseline (so the IND team are disadvantaged by the illegally raised hit). The second AUS attacker waits in possession of the ball until he is closed down by the same IND defender and then raises the ball into his thigh from close range (less than 2m). The umpire awarded a penalty corner, thus ignoring an intentionally raised hit and two instances of dangerous play by the AUS team.

7) An IND attacker used a hard forehand edge hit to raise the ball towards the goal from the top of the circle (it is not possible because of the frame rate of the original video to see if the ball was struck from inside the circle, but this is irrelevant anyway, the hit was illegal because a forehand edge hit was used to make it). If the ball was hit from outside the circle the intentional raising of the ball with a hit of any description would be illegal. The ball traveled towards a second IND attacker positioned in front of the goal who was  marked by a CAN player. The second IND attacker deflected the ball up into the arm of the CAN player (who could not avoid being hit at that range) this was clearly dangerous play by the IND player. The umpire awarded a penalty corner.

8) As mentioned previously, this illegal raising of the ball, use of a forehand edge-hit and dangerous play, were penalised by the umpire. The GER player was completely  ignorant of the Rules or despite knowing he was in breach of three Rules had the ‘brass neck’ to claim that the NZ player had committed a ball-body contact offence.

9) The AUS player intentionally raises the ball with a slap or punt hit across the circle towards the ARG goal.(to the disadvantage of an ARG defender and the ARG team) The ARG goalkeeper tries to kick the ball clear but propels it accidentally into the back of the legs of one of her own team, the ball then rolled out of play. This ball-body contact was of disadvantage to the ARG team, not the AUS team. Mysteriously the umpire, having ignored the initial raised hit offence by the AUS player, awarded a penalty conrner to the AUS team. For what?

It is not easy to understand what is going on concerning the Rules relating to illegal hitting actions, i.e. why they are so badly applied or ignored. The Rules are set out above, below is advice from the UMB.

Briefing Forehand edge
Briefing Ball off ground copy

Page three of the UMB, which is headed, Rules of Hockey 2017, contains a paragraph that ends with a statement that the text in the Rule reinforces the existing interpretation. This is a bizarre statement, it must be the other way about – the interpretation must reinforce what is given in the text of the Rule.

The page headed Ball off the Ground (page 11) contains a first clause that is full of contradiction with the Rules of Hockey – and the umpires are anyway – as in the incidents shown in the video clips above – usually ignoring dangerous play as well as ignoring the fact of offence (that the ball has been illegally raised, often to the disadvantage of opponents).

When an offence disadvantages opponents it must be penalised; it is only when an offence is of no disadvantage to opponents that it can be ignored and play allowed to continue. Not all offences are dangerous play or lead to dangerous play.

Dangerous play is by definition of disadvantage to opponents because for there to be dangerous play an opposing player must be endangered (is it necessary to say that being endangered with the ball is a disadvantage to a player? – I’ve done it anyway).

To advise in a briefing document that ball raising offences be ignored (forget lifted) except when they are dangerous in themselves or lead to dangerous play (think danger) and is not sound umpire management practice because this not only ignores the wording of the Rule it ignores any disadvantage to opponents. 

The umpires seen officiating in the above video clips (except #8) obviously do not understand the Rules. Rules 9.6 and 9.9. are applied (or not applied) in much the same way as Rule 9.12 is, and misapplied in much the same way as Rule 9.11. is misapplied. These umpires are consistently poor in the application of these Rules and there is not much common sense in evidence. There is therefore no good reason not to amend these Rules with the aim of achieving better compliance from both players and umpires.

In the first part of the video below the umpire ‘forgets’ lifted but he does not ‘think danger’ (here play leading to dangerous play). That close to the opposing goalkeeper, who was competing for the ball, the team-mate of the player who illegally raised the ball into the circle could not have been the initial receiver; the ball was potentially dangerous from the moment it was raised (I have no doubt about the flank player’s intention to raise the ball but would prefer a Rule situation where it was not necessary to determine intent – that the ball was raised into the circle should be sufficient to call an offence – as it was prior to the introduction of the Rule prohibiting the intentionally raised hit))

I am anyway firmly of the opinion that no player should be permitted to play or attempt to play at an above shoulder ball while in the opponents circle, especially if it is possible that the type of play seen in the video would not be considered by umpires to be dangerous. We have been taken in one step, by Rule amendment, from a situation where a defender who attempted to play at a shot at the goal that was going wide of the target would have to be penalised with a penalty corner (mandatory) to what looks like a free-for-all.

In the second incident the raised hit across the goal was obviously intended as a pass and not a shot at the goal and was therefore illegally raised. It is not possible (fair or safe) for the umpire to ‘forget lifted’ in such circumstances.

Back in 1997 when the Off-side Rule was finally abolished, the then FIH Hockey Rules Board promised that measures would be put in place to prevent attackers behaving in a dangerous way close to the goal (‘goal-hanging’, not previously possible, was a concern). These measures never materialized; in fact the opposite has happened, what little Rule protection there was for defending players after 1997 has been ruthlessly stripped away. Comment about this (from someone who pointed out he was a qualified umpire) is contained in my article ‘Reckless endangerment’ and illustrates a present common attitude towards players who are defending the goal when a raised shot is made.

Below, another example in which there is penalising of a second offence rather than the first offence and awarding of the free ball in the wrong place (the first offence led to the second offence and was therefore – Rule 9.8 – also dangerous play).