An unwanted Rule and authority


One of the simplest and clearest Rules in the rule-book is Rule 9.9. which concerns a ball raised with a hit.

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.

There are however two difficulties within the Rule requirements that need to be properly addressed if it is to be applied as written. The first of these arises because application depends on two subjective judgements and two objective judgements required of an umpire when the ball is raised with a hit – and then secondly, there are the exceptions to consider.

Objective decisions. 1) Was the ball hit? Yes/No  2) Was the ball raised? Yes/No  Then Subjective decisions 1) Was the ball raised intentionally Yes/No  2) Was a player endangered by the raised hit? Yes/No and Finally do any of the exceptions apply – a ball raised  in a controlled way (at low level i.e. safely) over the stick of an opponent or an opponent lying on the ground? Yes/No.

The only one of these decisions that can possibly cause any pause for further consideration is intention to raise the ball, but in the majority of cases it is perfectly clear when there is intention by the hitter to do so – not least because the ball is raised towards an opponent who would have no difficulty at all in intercepting it if it was hit along the ground. Another indicator is the use of an edge hit in circumstances where an edge hit is not a necessary or even the best option available to propel/pass the ball, so it is obviously the raising of the ball that is aimed for by the hitter.

A third, and overwhelming, difficulty is vague contradiction to the Rule that umpires receive as advice in the published FIH Umpire Briefing (for umpires officiating at FIH Tournaments) as part (there is also a verbal element) of their induction at each Tournament See below:-

Why should the UMB be considered advice and not Rule? It’s a matter of common sense. An umpire cannot be obliged by Rule to have and use common sense and the inclusion of “Use common sense and show understanding of the play” in the UMB must therefore make it advice and not Rule. Moreover advice is not ‘lumped’ together with Rule as if they were both the same thing – and the UMB has a lot of similar advice – it even advises umpires to enjoy themselves, something that is clearly not subject to Rule.

The UMB is therefore not Rule and should not be regarded or used as if Rule – but unfortunately, parts of it are. Why is this unfortunate? Because much of the UMB is contrary to common sense as it actually conflicts in places with what is given in the FIH published Rules of Hockey – as the above “blow only in dangerous situations everywhere on the pitch – forget lifted, think danger” does. Why do umpires follow the UMB in preference to the Rule? Because the individual who gives an umpire additional verbal briefing, based on the published UMB (or not), about expected performance at the start of a tournament is going to write a report on their performance and that report will have a bearing on further appointments and the chance of promotion within the ranks of umpires – so the reason is self interest.

That the UMB is used in place of the Rules of Hockey is all the more bizarre because the FIH Execuitve have made it perfectly clear that no body – no other person, no other official, no other group or committee, other than the FIH Rules Committee, make Rule, amendment Rule or provide Rule Interpretation. The FIH Rules Committee cannot be overruled in matters of Rule and Rule Interpretation. The only way forward is to persuade the FIH Rules Committee to amend the Rules where this is considered appropriate. In the meantime however umpires go their own way and do their ‘own thing’. 

The words “forget lifted, think danger’ in the first clause of the UMB page above are a case in point when discussing conflict. The Rule is absolutely clear about judging a ball raised with hit as an offence based explicitly on an intent to raise the ball , not on whether or not endangerment (a separate offence) is caused because the ball has been raised with a hit. It is absolutely wrong to permit a player to intentionally raise the ball with a hit, to the disadvantage of opponents and to do so without penalty. That opponents are endangered by an illegally raised ball is a second related but separate issue.  An umpire cannot properly apply the Rule and at the same time ‘forget’ lifted (a very vague bit of advice because the essential element, intent, is not mentioned at all.)

It is clear from the wording of the Explanation of the Rule that accidental raising of the ball with a hit is not an offence unless endangerment is caused. The UMB therefore effectively advises umpires to regard all raised hits as accidental – and to look only for dangerous play when a ball is raised with a hit; an obvious nonsense given the wording of the Rule and a very unfair one.

The umpire in the following incident made a horrible blunder in not penalising the clearly intentional raising of the ball with a hit past the two IND defenders (to their disadvantage) and allowing the AUS team to score a goal as a result. Comment elsewhere has pointed to the possible disappointment of the spectators if such a spectacular ‘goal’ had been disallowed. I think more about the certain dismay of the Indian players that it was awarded (and it was the only goal of the match).

In the following video only a match commentator (and not an FIH Umpire as in the video above) is wrong in considering foul play to be “superb” or “magnificent”. Yes the pass from near the half-way line seen in the video below was made with excellent weight and direction but it was made in an illegal way and to the disadvantage of opponents, it should have been penalised under current Rule (and the same pass could in any case have been made in a legal way with a scoop stroke).

The intentionally raised edge hit into the circle in the following video is similar to the play seen in the first one above, the only real difference is the distance involved. This too resulted in the award of a goal when it should not have done. The umpires caught themselves in a consistency trap by the failure to penalise the first raised edge hit, which a defender used to clear the ball over a side-line. That clearance (which also looks to me to have been dangerous play) should have resulted in the award of a penalty corner.

Do we want or need intentionally raised hits that are not shots at the goal to be penalised? No obviously not, not unless they are also dangerous play, but that is not how the Rule is presented in the UMB or how it is applied. It’s a rotten Rule which was put in place in the late 1980’s to prevent hits that at the time had become popular, because of the introduction of the ultra stiff carbon-fibre reinforced stick, which facilitated, in expert hands, a clip or chip hit from one end of the pitch to the other.

In not so expert hands attempts to emulate the high and long chip hits of the experts (including the taking of shots at the goal) became extremely dangerous and the chip/clip hit had to be banned before someone was killed – but a better way to achieve such a ban could have been employed, for example an absolute height limit on any raised hit which was not a shot at the goal (it’s apparently still okay to put at risk of death players who are defending a goal, but that’s another story)- and the extant prohibition on raising the ball into the circle, irrespective of intent to do so, should have remained in place. It was instead ‘lost’ to deletion because it was not considered necessary. When there was a ban on intentional raising of the ball with a hit, the ball could not be raised with a hit into the circle, could it?- How wrong that supposition turned out to be. Will restoring the ban on any raising of the ball into the opponent’s circle with a hit lead to fairer umpiring? It should do. it should at least lead to more consistent umpiring, few umpires confuse raised with not raised.

But this is by no means certain, I recall a Commonwealth Final some years ago between the Australian and Indian women’s teams which Australia won ‘at the death’ after the ball had been raised with a hit into the Indian circle – an illegal action at the time – (the raised hit was also dangerous, causing evasive action by an Indian defender) the ball was then put into the goal by a Australian attacker who dived to connect her stick with it as it bounced up off the ground and it was deflected high into the Indian net. The goal was so spectacular that everybody, including the umpire, just forgot the Rules.

The other part of the Explanation of Rule 9.9 does not explain anything that is actually written in the Rule (which is about an intentionally raised hit). This is the instruction concerning the raising of a ball towards another player within 5m with a flick or a scoop.

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.

That inserted statement is properly part of the Rule concerning a dangerously played ball, Rule 9.8. The clause concerning the raising of the ball towards a close opponent is however generally ignored (danger caused by lifting being ignored – that is contrary to the UMB as well as the Rules), with the result that Rule 9.11 – ball body contact – is very badly applied. Players are ‘winning’ penalty corners instead of being penalised for contravention of the Explanation of application given in Rule 9.9: the ‘Rule clause’ under which the forcing of an unintentional contact from an opponent by raising the ball into that opponent should be penalised.

The following part appears to be random repetition of a clause from the Rules of the Penalty Corner. I cannot explain the reference to a shot or why this clause is repeated in the Explanation to Rule 9.9 at all. It almost goes without saying that it is poorly applied, the words  “without attempting to play the ball with their stick” being generally ignored.

If an opponent is clearly running into the shot or into the attacker without attempting to play the ball with their stick, they should be penalised for dangerous play.

It does not matter at all what the Rules are if umpires (or their coaches) decide not to apply them – which they do even though they have no authority whatsoever to pick and choose which Rules to apply as given and which to subvert. Rule 9.9 is clearly a mess which needs sorting out with a rewrite by the FIH Rules Committee, but then Rules 9.8  9.10. 9.11 and 9.12 are also urgently in need of rewrites not least, but not entirely, because of the mess umpires have made of the ‘accepted’ application of them.

It is only the FIH Rules Committee that can introduce new Rule or amend existing Rule or Interpretation. The FIH Executive issued a Circular to National Associations in 2001 that made that perfectly clear. In that Circular it was stated that no other person or official or body (committee) has authority to amend the Rules or the Interpretation of the Rules. The opinion of umpires seems to be the other way about. As part of an exchange of views on Facebook following comment about umpire briefings (the UMB) posted with the first video shown above, I received this in reply.


Michael Margolien                      Briefing obviously overrides rules.

Think of it as an executive decision overriding a law (a rule) which is a more complicated and longer process (the rule change is). Hockey develops in a certain way (and international especially) and this is the way it is umpired.

It only takes a few minutes considering the consequences of the above oddly composed statement to work out that it is a path to chaos – and it is anarchy.  Umpire Briefings do not override the Rules of Hockey, that is an impossibility. Umpire Managers and Umpire Coaches cannot make short term or immediate changes to Rules or Interpretations according to the way the game is being played (has developed) and then expect or demand that the FIH Rules Committee ‘catch up’ with Rule at a later date. That is ‘cart before the horse’ as well as acting without authority. It is in fact allowing hockey coaches to determine the Rules of Hockey – each nation trying to do so to their own advantage

(I am reminded that edge hitting was ‘legal’ in Argentina for several years before it became so in the rest of the world and that the focus on speed and fitness in Australian hockey led to the Australian HA pressing hard for the introduction of squads of sixteen and rolling substitutions (this has lately been extended by breaking matches into four period of 15 minutes rather than two of 35 minutes). These might now be considered to be good things, although I am not happy to see shorter more ‘frantic’ matches and I feel that playing time should have been increased to 80 mins (4 x 20) to reflect the influence and advantage of three breaks in play, rolling substitutions and larger squad sizes, the changes are not balanced, they are all in one direction. Hockey is being ‘packaged’ like confectionery. Year on year the portion given is reduced and the price increased. The current ignoring of the Obstruction Rule and the increase of physical contact in play and several other aspects of ‘modern’ hockey may not be regarded as improvements in the longer term and I certainly do not want to see the FIH RC changing these Rules  to reflect how International Level umpire are currently interpreting them – which would mean, except in the case of contact tackling, deleting them).

Umpire briefings must follow the extant Rules, not attempt to lead them. The ultimate authority, Congress, who appoint the FIH Executive, decides how the game will be played and the FIH Executive in turn appoints a Rule Committee which is given sole authority to issue Rules and the Interpretations of those Rules – which the Executive then approve – so that the game is played in the way desired by Congress. Umpires have no direct part in making Rules or Interpretations of (the wording of) Rules while umpiring. Their task while umpiring is to apply the Rules as instructed by the FIH Rules Committee. (so with the assistance of the FIH Umpiring Committee – who liaise with the FIH Rules Committee – they interpret player actions during a match for compliance with the wording of published Rules and Interpretations). If umpires don’t understand how a Rule should be Interpreted then they need to ask the FIH Rules Committee to issue clarification – these days that can be done fairly quickly. Rule clarification from authority cannot be only the personal opinion of a TD or UM, issued on an ad hoc basis just prior to or during a Tournament, when that opinion conflicts with FIH RC instruction – they don’t have this authority.




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