If only….only if.


Rule 9.11 Ball-body contact and the related advice from the 2017 Umpire Manager’s Briefing in shouting size with colour highlights.

The above Rule is very simple and the Explanation about how it is to be applied is reasonably straightforward, ‘reasonable’ depending on what is interpreted to be an advantage. So why is the application of Rule 9.11 so abysmally badly carried out in practice?

I think it indicative of the attitude taken to the Rules of Hockey by the Umpiring Committee that the text in the Rules is said, in the UMB, to reinforce the existing interpretation – instead of, as it should, declaring that the interpretation follows the text of the Rule and Explanation. Rules are not intended to reinforce interpretations that have arisen via umpire practice, umpires are supposed to be applying the Rules of Hockey, not making them, and the Explanation of application must, if there is to be consistency, be regarded as instruction, not just as advice or recommendation. But at least it is clearly stated in the UMB that the player only commits an offence if they gain advantage. Is that clear or does it in fact ‘plant’ the words “the player only commits an offence“? The above Rule Explanation, if it is read at all, appears to be ‘skimmed’ and applied as follows.

It is always an offence if the ball hits the foot of a field player. The player commits an offence if they stop the ball with their body.

The UMB leaves out the criterion of intentional ball-body contact, as well it might even if that should not have been left out, intentional ball-body (ball-foot) contact occurs about once in a thousand instances of such contact, if that. The gaining of an advantage following a ball body contact occurs in possibly 50% of instances but probably far less than that as the player is usually occupied trying to avoid being hit with the ball and if the player is hit the ball can rebound in any direction. Which team benefits is generally similar to the result of a coin toss, but it may be neither team, the ball might just run loose so that it can be evenly contested for. But a player who has been hit with the ball is penalised for ball-body contact in at least 95% of instances.

If, as seems to be the case, umpire coaches are striving to “take the whistle out of the game”, penalising ball-body contact only when it ought to be penalised would be an excellent way to achieve that aim.

Here (video below) is an example of an umpire, during the 2017 Women’s European Cup Final, BEL v NED,  accepting a video referral from the NED team claiming a ball-foot contact. I suppose that, because the match umpire obviously could not make these judgements, not having seen the incident, intent to make contact or advantage gained from doing so would have to have been left to the judgement of the video umpire, even though video umpires are not supposed to make these subjective judgements (see Tournament Regs. Appendix 15) – but only to make recommendation to the match umpire based on what is seen – which seems to me to be a contradiction which places both the match umpire and the video umpire in an impossible position: but on we go.



The BEL goalkeeper deflects the ball with her stick onto the foot of a defender positioned very close to her. This was an unintentional contact by the BEL defender, she could not avoid being hit. The ball then deflects away from the hit defender, was missed by a NED attacker – who immediately ran to the umpire to request a video referral – the ball then continues into the possession of another NED attacker without a BEL player being able to gain possession of it. The NED player then in possession passed the ball to a team-mate and an attack on the BEL  goal proceeded, but was halted by the umpire who had stopped time for the video referral. Naturally the video umpire confirmed there was a ball-foot contact and a penalty corner was ‘automatically’ awarded.

(What would have happened if the NED team had played the ball into the BEL goal before time was stopped, but while one of their number was occupying the attention of the umpire with a video referral request?)

Why didn’t the video umpire see and report that the BEL team had gained no advantage from the ball leg contact of one of its defenders. It is in any case unlikely that a team will gain an advantage following the disadvantage of having their goalkeeper play the ball into the body/legs of one of her own team. A gain of advantage became an impossibility when the ball then deflected off that defender into the possession of a member of the opposing NED team and the NED team were then able to play on and make an attack on the BEL goal. That the NED player closest to the defender failed to intercept the ball is irrelevant, the NED team gained an advantage so the BEL team could not have done so – therefore no offence occurred. I can see that from the play and I trust that anybody looking at the incident with an impartial eye would also. The answer to my question is I believe, that it is likely that this trained video umpire did not bother to look beyond the fact that ball contact with the leg of a BEL defender had occurred. Penalty just flowed, automatically and incorrectly, from the fact of ball-leg contact

What happened in this incident is pretty much the standard ignoring of the Explanation of Application given with Rule 9.11. thereby ignoring the criteria for a ball body contact offence to have occurred. The BEL team gained no advantage from the contact, on the contrary, if the ball-foot contact had not occurred the ball deflected by the goalkeeper would I believe have run to another BEL player further away from her and not into the possession of the NED player it was deflected towards off the BEL defender. That could have been ascertained in less than three seconds following the contact.

The umpire could correctly have penalised the ball shielding of the NED right flank player prior to her passing the ball into the goalmouth, a pass which led to the goalkeeper deflecting the ball away from the goal-line. But ignoring ball shielding is also pretty much standard practice – which is why ball shielding at every opportunity is standard practice for players. This is an area where the whistle really has been taken out of the game – almost completely.

Is there something beyond the reach of translation or beyond literal interpretation of word meaning in the text of Rule 9.11 and the Explanation provided with it? Are the words ‘only’ and ‘if’ being made to do too much work? Could the Rule be reworded so that it ceases to be so badly applied? How about Ball-body contact is not an offence unless the player hit with the ball…. But I think not, almost everything, including various rewording of the same criteria, has already been tried without making any difference whatsoever to ‘practice’. 

“Ball-body (foot) contact is an offence” is a meme, which umpires have been unable to get out of their heads for thirty or more years, despite the considerable efforts of the HRB and the FIH Rules Committee to get them to change that approach. It is a meme which will be heard repeated in every explanation of the Rules of Hockey offered by contributors to YouTube (including England Hockey), in many an International level player stands before the camera and informs viewers that this is a fact.  This ‘fact’ was also contained in the video made by the FIH, to give an idea of the Rules of the game to people who might be watching hockey for the first time during the WWC.

That raising the ball from close range into the legs or body of an opponent is always an offence is very rarely mentioned (perhaps because seeing an umpire penalise a player so hit, which is common, would confuse viewers?). 

I believe an entirely new approach to ball-body contact is required.





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