Archive for March 13th, 2018

March 13, 2018

Legitimate evasive action


Edited 15th December 2018

It has been suggested to me that the evasive action being taken by the defender shown in the photograph is not legitimate because the ball was not raised at or above his knee height. This suggestion uses ‘necessary‘ rather than ‘genuine‘ or ‘necessary as well as genuine‘ to define legitimate. The meaning ‘legal’ is obviously not appropriate, the defender does nothing illegal in trying to avoid being hit with the ball. But the fact that this needs to be pointed out highlights a problem; there is no clear meaning given to the definition of a dangerously played ball we have been provided with in Rule 9.8.

Rule 9.8. Explanation. A ball is also considered dangerous when it causes legitimate evasive action by players.

The recently added “also” is there because there are also two objective criteria provided in Rule 9.9,  which are 1) the raising of the ball towards a player 2) who is within 5m – the “knee height or above” part comes from the Rules of the conduct of a penalty corner – so even within the objective criteria for ‘dangerous’ there is some ambiguity about appropriate application.

I prefer to think of a legitimate evasive action as one that has been taken genuinely. That is a player takes evasive action because he or she believes that if they do not do so there is a high probability that the will be hit and injured with the ball. I take that view because the reverse edge hit, particularly when it is used to make a hard shot at the goal, is generally used with the intention of raising the ball. Players will often opt to use a reverse edge hit when they could just as easily, or even more easily, have used a standard upright forehand hit, because a raised ball hit towards a defender is more difficult for the defender to track and play than one that is hit towards them along the ground. If a defender within 5m of a striker believes that striker is going to raise the ball at him or her at high velocity (and is going to use a reverse edge hit to do so) it is reasonable to suppose the defender has a genuine reason to be taking evasive action even before the ball is struck (after the ball is struck will be too late).

A problem with using ‘necessary’ as a criteria for ‘legitimate’ is that evasion that was not only genuine but also necessary when it was taken can become unnecessary because of subsequent events. A ball raised towards the head of a defender on the goal-line, which is evaded by that defender as soon as he or she realizes what its path is, may be intercepted by the stick of another defender or deflected by the stick of a second attacker. The evading defender has no way of anticipating such intervention (which may make the evasion unnecessary) or of halting his or her evasion, which may have been a reflex action.

Another problem is that a defender may be taken by surprise and not realize that evasion is necessary until it is too late to evade. This may be coupled with the edge hitter not having an accurate idea of the height to which the ball will be raised. The example in the video below is of an illegal reverse hit, illegal because the ball was raised intentionally with a hit but was not a shot at the goal from within a shooting circle, and also because it was raised dangerously. The striker obviously had no idea (or intent) that the ball would rise as sharply as it did (but he did intend to raise the ball) and the defender had no chance to evade the ball entirely with his reflexive attempt to defend his face (the bruise on his neck, caused by the raised ball, can be seen).

It is sobering to know that had that edge hit been a shot at the goal from within the circle of the defender, many umpires would have penalised the defender and not the striker.

The player shown being hit with a raised shot in the picture below was penalised (he was hit to the side of his knee despite his evasive jump)  – a penalty stroke was awarded instead of a free ball to the defending team, which would have been the correct decision following the breaches of Rule 9.8 and 9.9. by the attacker.  A defender cannot be said or required to accept the risk that an opponent will endanger him by means of a breach of either of these Rules. The acceptance of risk, normally associated with participation in a dangerous sport, can only be applies to the accptance of the risks caused by legal actions – raising the ball towards an opponent within 5m is not a legal action.

The striker of the shot shown in the first photograph presented at the top of this article, probably intended that the ball fly into the goal just under the cross-bar and was disappointed at the ball elevation achieved as well as the direction of the shot (it was off-target). The point is, if a striker cannot always be sure about what height and direction the ball will be raised with a hard edge hit, it is unreasonable to expect a defender to have any idea of the path the ball will take, and when a defender sees a forward ‘shape up’ to strike an edge hit towards him or her from close range it is reasonable to consider any evasive action taken as being legitimate. (It is worth noticing that the evading defender was protecting his head with his arms and even a team-mate of the shooter, well to the right of the defender, also took evasive action – neither player could have had an accurate idea of either the height or direction the ball would be propelled until moments after it was hit) The umpire awarded a penalty corner following that foul by the attacker and not as he should have a free ball to the defending team.

And that brings us to another problem, unless he or she is a mind-reader, an umpire can have no idea if evasive action taken by a defender towards whom a ball has been raised, is genuine or not (and often even if it was necessary). Legitimate evasive action is therefore an inappropriate criteria on which to base an important judgement like ‘dangerously played’. There is here a subjective judgement – legitimate – being used to define another subjective judgement – dangerous – and, as has been pointed out, ‘legitimate’ cannot be judged with any certainty at all.

In this following  instance, as it happens, the ball was raised to above knee height at the defender from within 5m of his position. The fact that a shot at the goal was being attempted should not (cannot) prevent an umpire applying criteria for dangerously played that is generally accepted in other situations in open play. There is no exemption from the dangerously played ball Rule for the taking of a shot at goal (no matter what a Russian FIH Umpire and an Australian television commentator said to the contrary during a World Cup match in 2010)

Nor, I believe many drag-flick experts will be astonished to be informed, is there any distance limitation put by Rule on legitimate evasive action. LEA has to be judged as much, if not more, on ball velocity and ball height as it is on distance from the player the ball is propelled at. Flicking the ball at a defender’s head, at 120 -150kmh., is not always okay just because it is done from about 13m – in fact very seldom so. 5m is not a distance beyond which a dangerously played ball becomes an impossibility, it is the distance within which a ball raised at an opponent must always be considered to be dangerously played at that opponent. This is an Emphasis on safety – Consideration for the safety of other players – Playing responsibly – all that generally ignored stuff in the rule-book.