Physical contact in a non-contact game


Andreu Enrich a Spanish International level hockey player (and also a busy hockey coach) who recently joined the Facebook FIH Hockey Rules discussion group, has written some interesting hockey articles which he has posted on the website. This is one entitled ‘Ten habits of successful hockey players’.

lists as one of the habits:-

Aggressiveness is not negotiable: hockey is becoming -and it will become- more and more physical. That means that the physical contact will be more and more accepted and tolerated by the umpires. In hockey, goals can only be scored inside circles. That creates a “highly transcendent” field of battle for both attackers and defenders. Inside the circles, every inch and every instant has an enormous value. It’s worthy to fight hard for it. Don’t be violent, be aggressive, but remain at the margin of the concept. Don’t refuse the contact.

These parts of that statement I cannot accept and must present argument against:-

“hockey is becoming -and it will become- more and more physical. That means that the physical contact will be more and more accepted and tolerated by the umpires.”                                                             “Don’t refuse the contact”

This, below, I find ambiguous, I don’t understand what is meant.

“Don’t be violent, be aggressive, but remain at the margin of the concept.”


There are three parts to my argument. 1) What by Rule players must not do 2) What by Rule umpires must and and must not do. 3) Why the Rules are as they are.

The relevant Rules.

All participants:
Responsibility and Liability Participants in hockey must be aware of the Rules of Hockey and of other information in this publication. They are expected to perform according to the Rules.

Emphasis is placed on safety. Everyone involved in the game must act with consideration for the safety of others. Relevant national legislation must be observed. Players must ensure that their equipment does not constitute a danger to themselves or to others by virtue of its quality, materials or design.

1.4 Umpires must :
a have a thorough knowledge of the Rules of Hockey but remember that the spirit of the Rule and common sense must govern interpretation
b support and encourage skilful play, deal promptly and firmly with offences and apply the appropriate penalties
c establish control and maintain it throughout the match
d use all the available tools for control
e apply the advantage Rule as much as possible to assist a flowing and open match but without losing control.                                                                          
(Some of those appear to be advice but they are all presented as Rule – but then we have some Rule, for example what is written under the heading Responsibility and Liability, presented as if it is only advice).

Umpires do not have the authority to accept or tolerate more, indeed any, (intentional) physical contact between contesting opponents during a hockey match. Umpires, like all other participants, must abide by the published Rules of Hockey. There is leeway for interpretation except where there is no ambiguity in a Rule requirement or in a matter of fact. Where an objective judgement, rather than a subjective judgement is being made, then there is no need for interpretation (of intent for example). Interpretation should in any case refer to the interpretation of actions rather than to the meaning of the words used in a Rule. Word meanings in Rules should be determined and understood before an umpire sets foot on a hockey pitch, not arrived at during the course of an incident in a match; this knowledge is part of preparation.

A look at the Rules about physical contact reveals that some, when considered along with the provided Explanations of application, are very clear, 9.3 and 9.13 for example (the absence of any Explanation with these two Rules may account for the clarity of them); others depend on the interpretation of actions such as ‘intimidate’, ‘impede’, ‘legitimate’ (‘legitimate’ here meaning ‘legal’ rather than ‘genuine’ or ‘necessary’), but a fair and workable interpretation of these actions should not beyond the common sense of a reasonable and rational person.

9.3 Players must not touch, handle or interfere with other players or their sticks or clothing.
There is no ambiguity about the meaning of this Rule – it is absolute, even touching is prohibited. I have (I hope using common sense) added ‘intentional’ to it , but even an accidental physical contact between players which disadvantages an opponent or an opposing team is an offence which should be penalised. There is no room in the construction of this rule for any other interpretation but a literal one – no contact at all – there can be no acceptance or tolerance of physical contact and if there is doubt about whether a body to body contact was intended an umpire would be correct to penalise rather than not do so. The body to body contact Rule is in other words as some umpires imagine the ball-body contact Rule to be (the ball-body contact Rule is in fact almost the opposite in its construction – not an offence unless). If the Rule approach to body to body contact is to be changed Rule 9.3 must first be changed, that cannot be done on an ad hoc basis by an umpire at any level – it cannot even be done by a Tournament Director.

I have added ‘intentional’ because the UMB gives to Tournament Umpires, under the heading FLOW, this ambiguous and vague advice…

Allow the players to contest the ball

… but I can’t see such permitted contesting including intentional physical contact. I may be wrong about that but it does not matter if I am, the UMB is not the Rules of Hockey and does not, cannot, over-rule the Rule, which forbids physical contact. Accidental bumping while two players are running ‘neck and neck’ after a loose ball may be overlooked by an umpire – as per the advice in the UMB – but any hint of intentional barging, in an attempt to gain an advantage, should (must) be penalised.

9.4 Players must not intimidate or impede another player.                          
(Physically blocking the movement of another player is prohibited. The two terms used in this Rule are very different actions and I do not understand why they have been lumped together as they have)

9.12 Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play the ball.
Players obstruct if they :

back into an opponent
physically interfere with the stick or body of an opponent
shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body

A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it.

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this is third party or shadow obstruction). This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper or player with goalkeeping privileges) when a penalty corner is being taken.                                                                                  (Many physical contact offences are also obstruction offences; a book could be written about obstruction but most hockey coaches just ignore it and so do many umpires)


9.13 Players must not tackle unless in a position to play the ball without body contact.
(an overly severe positional requirement – how is such a position determined in advance of a tackle attempt? – but not an ambiguously worded Rule)

Reckless play, such as sliding tackles and other overly physical challenges by field players, which take an opponent to ground and which have the potential to cause injury should attract appropriate match and personal penalties.

I won’t list the physical contact offences a goalkeeper might commit by inappropriate use of his or her body protection, the pattern is the same.

Nowhere in the Rules of Hockey is there any indication that any intentional physical contact is acceptable or may or should be tolerated by an umpire. An umpire who does accept physical contact among competing players goes beyond what the Rules permit and is exceeding his or her authority. Such exceeding of authority is not interpretation (What is being interpreted?) or the application of common sense, but invention, and is certainly outside of the ‘Spirit of the Rules’ and the intent and purpose of them.

Umpires do not have the authority to invent Rules or (except when following the Advantage Rule) to disregard a particular offence. A physical contact offence which is not immediately penalised because advantage was allowed should in any case be penalised, with a personal penalty for the offender, at the first opportunity after the advantage has played out.

Players who are strong and fit, have well developed stick-skills and good timing and spatial awareness don’t need to use physical contact (brute force) to play the game well and must be penalised if they do use physical contact to gain advantage – to deter such conduct.

We have a game that can be played for a life-time, old codgers and young kids, grand-parents with their grand-children, can play on the same pitch at the same time – and Mum and Dad can join in too. It’s a social and non-contact sport; let’s keep it that way. If Dad (or Mum rather than Dad – or both) also want to enjoy something far more demanding and competitive in a club’s First Teams, that’s fine: Sport is about enjoyment. Those who enjoy physical contact sports can go and play hurling or lacrosse (which have many of the same skills as hockey).

As a skinny youngster I enjoyed that I could compete on a level with much bigger kids of my own age (who would half kill me when playing soccer), because the Rules protected me from physically aggressive tackling and I could use my brain rather than my weight or aggression to compete. We need to retain that protection and encourage the development of thinking and stick-work and movement skills – and to encourage kids to stay with a sport when they leave school.

(Not that size determines aggression. Swann (video above) seems to get away with his continual physical aggressive foul play (there are many examples of it) because he is not a large man – he gets treated as if he is a kid who does not know what he is doing).…non-contact-game/

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