Archive for July 31st, 2018

July 31, 2018

Utterly wrong and absolutely right


Edited 4st Aug 2018.

The Hockey paper has published a longer second (and I think objectionable) opinion piece on the shootout decision by Michelle Joubert, that decided the match between Belgium and Spain at the Women’s World Cup. I have added it at the foot of this article with a comment.

The first article and my comment

By The Hockey Paper Rob Gilmour

Belgium’s Red Panthers were denied the chance of a World Cup quarter—final berth in controversial fashion as Spain advanced in a tense shoot out on Tuesday.

With the scores locked at 3—2 to Spain in sudden death, and after 12 shuttles, Louise Versavel had to score to keep Belgium in the game.

But with her back to goal in the D she was adjudged to have backed into Spanish goalkeeper Maria Ruiz by umpire Michelle Joubert and the game ended abruptly.

With no video referral forthcoming, Belgium remonstrated with Joubert leaving Spain, who achieved fourth in 2006, to celebrate wildly-

It did seem a particularly harsh decision given that the same obstruction ‘offence’ would generally be considered legal on the field during normal play.

However the FIH said in a statement to The Hockey Paper that video referral regulations do not allow the umpire to refer decisions of this nature, while “the footage shows the Belgium player backing into the Spain goalkeeper which is an obstruction-”

“Our world cup ends here, this is sport,” tweeted the Red Panthers account on social media.

The decision marred an othenwise drab play-off game after it had finished 0-0 at full-time_ Germany now play Spain in the last eight.


The umpire’s decision to penalise the BEL striker for obstruction was correct and I have to take issue with this mischievous and wildly inaccurate statement.

“It did seem a particularly harsh decision given that the same obstruction ‘offence’ would generally be considered legal on the field during normal play.”

It is never acceptable play, that is, within the Rules (legal) for a player in possession of the ball to move to impose her body between the ball and an opponent, to shield the ball with her body, and then to back into contact with that opponent. There are in fact three offences committed obstruction (Rule 9.12), physical contact (Rules 9.3) and impeding (9.4). but all of the described actions are specifically prohibited within the Explanation of Application of the Obstruction Rule. The fact that this combination of offences is frequently not penalised should be a scandal. It is ridiculous that when an umpire does penalise this combination correctly she is lambasted for it. The fault is with hockey coaches who encourage this sort of illegal play and have not instructed their teams in the Rules of the game – and of course with umpires who fail to penalise when they should do so and have created a false culture of ‘acceptance’ or even the impression that there has been a change made to the Rule or to the Interpretation of the Rule – a change that only the FIH Rules committee can make – and they have not done so..

I don’t understand why a video referral is considered not possible. “Did the attacker move to position herself between the goalkeeper and the ball?” is a question that is objective and the answer, which is observable, is a simple “Yes” or “No”. In the same way “Did the attacker back into the goalkeeper while shielding the ball from her?” and “Did the attacker make contact with the goalkeeper?” Are straightforward “Yes” or “No” questions. No subjective judgement is required to answer any of these questions: they could all be correctly answered simply by looking at video replay of the action.

The response from the FIH vis-a-vis subjectivity of decision concerning referral of the above incident is interesting with regard to questions concerning ball-body contact which the umpire has not seen – technically, if the FIH statement is true, a video umpire cannot accept such questions because a ball-body contact offence depends on two subjective criteria, intent or advantage gained. But I have never seen or heard of a ‘question’ like “They are asking for a penalty corner for a foot in the circle” rejected by a video umpire as an unsuitable or unacceptable question. Such ‘questions’ should of course be rejected.

By The Hockey Paper Rob Gilmour
 The second article

Not surprisingly, the first shoot out of the Vitality Women’s World Cup created the tournament’s first genuine controversy. With Louise Versavel needing to score to keep Belgium alive, the enormously experienced umpire Michelle Joubert, awarded a free hit against the Belgian attacker for obstruction on the Spanish goalkeeper. Spain are now in the semi-finals.

There has been plenty of conjecture as to whether the decision was correct. To me, there wasn’t enough for it to have crossed the ‘obstruction’ line but on the other hand, a far greater authority, the multiple Olympic and World Cup umpire Peter Wright, said on Twitter that the decision was spot on.

But whether the decision was right or wrong doesn’t really seem to be the issue. What seems far more relevant is why Michelle Joubert chose to blow the whistle and not wait until the play ended, one way or another.

By deciding to intervene before any shot or save was made, Joubert, for all her experience, put herself into the still precarious territory of being perceived as the match decider. Had the play been allowed to continue, the onus would have stayed on the players as well as allowing Joubert to stay true to a couple of age-old, but still important, umpiring principles.

Obstruction or not, a shot over the back-line or cleared by the goalkeeper, would have meant no decision to make. Relatively speaking we then wouldn’t have known the umpire was there. Had a goal been scored, the umpire, having sensed a possible obstruction, could have used her referral. At least she would have ensured that she only had to blow the whistle when she had to.

As it was, the play was cut short not for an obvious foot or back of the stick but for a subjective decision with both players still in the contest for the ball. Belgium, having used their own review, were then doubly frustrated that Joubert would not review the decision herself but, in her defence, that would have raised a new set of issues.

Not only was it reasonable for Joubert to be 100% confident in her decision but umpire reviews are not intended to be prompted by aggrieved teams who have used up their own referral. Unfortunately, though, this turned an already messy situation into a fully-blown controversy.

And it is this point that is far more important than whether Louise Varsavel was backing into the Spanish goalkeeper or not. With no extra time and double the number of knockout games, umpires need to be experts in understanding and managing shootouts.

To that end, surely they should be allowed to use all the resources they have available to help them reach their decisions. So rather than just using referrals in shootouts as it is used in normal time, maybe it makes more sense for the for the Video Umpire to go and grab a cup of tea and let the umpires to use the replays in shootouts for themselves?

How much better would it have been for everyone had Joubert been able to just signal for a possible breach, and then four seconds later as the play had finished, use one of the conveniently placed big screens, as referees do in Rugby Union, to review her decision, if it was still needed?

Referrals to the Video Umpire are great for situations where the speed or congestion of the play have made life difficult for the one umpire in their circle but the simple fact is that shootouts rarely throw up those type of problems.

Not only do hockey shoot outs have one umpire perfectly positioned to watch the two competing players right in front of them but unlike in normal play, the other umpire is standing just as far away on the other side of the circle. Surely those two people, with the added advantage of having been right next to the live action as it happened, are better placed to work out the right decision from exactly the same replays that the Video Umpire has access to?

Obstruction or not, the conclusion to the tournament’s first shoot out was untidy and unsatisfactory and in its current form, there’s nothing to say that the same sort of scenario won’t happen again.

Shoot outs are an exciting, competitive conclusion to matches but they will only be better than the lottery of penalty strokes if we increase the chances for the on-field umpires to make the right calls.

The Editor of the Hockey Paper does not seem to be able to accept that the right call was made. This correct decision was also made at exactly the right time, was immediately the offence occurred. Given that playing advantage was not an option (which he obviously does not understand – Advantage is not allowed to the player who is seen to commit an offence but to her opponent, if that is possible.), . There could have been no possible advantage to the Spanish goalkeeper in allowing play to continue (the only reason to delay a decision)

The other thing he has not been able to grasp, although it has been explained in the first article above (which I brought to his attention), is that obstruction was not in this case a subjective decision. When a player in possession of the ball backs into physical contact with an opponent, whether or not the opponent is at the time trying to play at the ball (the only subjective judgement that might be needed to be made during obstructive play) is irrelevant.

Obstruction is here (and usually) about the player in possession of the ball illegally preventing an opponent from attempting a legitimate tackle. Physical contact is in all cases where it occurs an additional offence that has nothing to do with whether or not an opponent is trying to play at the ball at the time of the offence. Whether or not there has been physical contact is not a subjective decision – when it occurs it is an objective fact – and it’s seen or it’s not seen by the match umpire.

Of course Peter Wright backs the decision Michelle Joubert made. We have one Olympic and World Cup level umpire backing the decision of another Olympic and World Cup Umpire (when he need not have done so) Rob Gilmour is not as far as I know a hockey umpire. 

Michelle Joubert was voted by her peers to be the best female umpire in the world in 2016. Is it the fact that the word ‘female’ is contained in that accolade that made the editor of The Hockey Paper forget that Michelle Joubert is also an Olympic and World Cup level umpire? That ought really get people annoyed. I’m not known for singing the praises of umpires (which is of course an understatement), I have even had caustic things to say about some of the decisions that Peter Wright has made, and I was critical of Michelle Joubert for a ‘brain fade’ on a high ball, in an incident during the same match, which I related in reply to the first article above, (no umpire is perfect as the late George Croft often remarked), but when an umpire is right she is right – Michelle Joubert was right to give the decision she did in the BEL v ESP shootout.

I make my criticisms of umpiring ‘practice’ when that ‘practice’ does not comply with the published Rules of Hockey, Mr Gilmore appears to believe (and he is not alone) that ‘accepted practice’ (no matter what it may be) should (or does) over-rule Rule, which in a shootout at least, would (does) lead to a player turning her back to a goalkeeper and, with impunity, barging her aside.

My hope is that many more umpires will now (following Joubert’s good example) deal with obstructive play correctly, and coaches and players will rethink the tactic of turning to position between a goalkeeper and the ball during a shootout – and other opponents at other times – especially when they then back into the playing reach of an opponent who is intent on playing at the ball (clearly obstruction) and even go so far as to make physical contact (an additional offence).