Unauthorized Rule exception in the Netherlands.


Dangerously played ball

While commentating on a video I recently posted to YouTube I was critical of a television sports commentator speaking within it who declared that a defender hit with the ball while on the goal-line defending the goal would (always) be penalised with a penalty stroke. The ball had in this particular incident been deflected up into the chest of the defender from very close range off his own goalkeeper – and yes, in such circumstances the award of a penalty stroke is correct, but the statement made is not (this commentator also said several times during the match that any ball-body contact would (should) result in penalty against the player who was hit with the ball – which is also incorrect  It is not always an offence if the ball hits the foot, hand or body of a field player. The player only commits an offence if they gain an advantage or if they position themselves with the intention of stopping the ball in this way”.).

I pointed out that if the defender had been hit like that by a ball propelled from close range by an attacker a free ball should (must) be awarded to the defending team. (In the same match the NZ team tried to score a goal during a penalty corner  using a pass followed by a high deflection of the ball at the goal from less than one meter (the ball hit a post and then the goal cross-bar and bounced back into play). That defection shot narrowly missed the head of a defender after hitting the goal-post. Had the ball been played directly at that defender he would have had no chance to evade it. Evasion in such circumstances has to be considered legitimate and therefore an indication of dangerous play by opponents. This is true even if the evasion attempt is not successful and the player is hit with the ball). These assertions have to be correct because otherwise Rules 9.8 (dangerously played ball) and the Explanation with Rule 9.9 (ball raised towards an opponent within 5m) would be ignored. Comment was made about what I had said during that video by an umpire from the Netherlands, who subsequently gave me a link to a special letter to umpires from the KNHB. The relevant part is set out below.

The Netherlands Hockey Federation

Koninklijke Nederlandse Hockey Bond




Wees Alert!

– Ook een schot op doel kan gevaarlijk zijn. Het schot op doel is gevaarlijk wanneer
spelers een terecht ontwijkende beweging maken (dit geldt niet voor de lijnstopper bij een strafcorner-situatie);

Obviously inaccurately translated by Google Translate below, but the message is clear enough for comprehension.

— A shot on target can also be dangerous-

The shot on target is dangerous when players make a rightly evasive move
(this does not apply to the line stopper in a penalty corner situation).

The invented clause, given in parenthesis, will always conflict with the second statement and is likely to conflict with the first statement, so I find the ‘club safety’ title ironic with this clause included.

I also got another translation which makes even less sense.

— A shot on target can also be dangerous-

The shot on target is dangerous when players make a rightly evasive move
(this does not apply to the line stopper at a criminal responsibility situation).

I does not matter which translation I write about but I’ll take the first one because I have been told by the Dutch Umpire that this is how umpires are instructed and anyway, to refer to criminality (by a defender) seems beyond bizarre. (There could well be a case made for criminality by the player who propelled the ball, but the deliberateness of a severe action (for example propelling the ball at the head of a defending opponent with the intention of inflicting injury) would be difficult to prove without several instances of it occurring. There might be need to be able to demonstrate that the player had been warned or penalised for doing it on a previous occasion – possibly even in the same match before criminality could be asserted. This difficulty has always stood in the way of penalising a deliberately dangerously played ball).

The first difficulty about applying this (this does not apply to the line stopper in a penalty corner situation) exception to legitimate evasive action, is that it is not a legitimate i.e. legal, Rule clause (which ‘kills’ it stone dead); it is an invention by the KNHB who do not have the authority to invent such exceptions to the FIH Rules of Hockey (nobody other than the FIH Rules Committee has this power). It was not drafted by the FIH Rules Committee and submitted to the FIH Executive for approval and then approved by the Executive, which is the only legitimate procedure for making or amending Rule, (that is why it is not in the FIH published Rules of Hockey) so it is not and cannot be considered to be FIH authorized and should not be applied by any umpire anywhere in the world as if it is authorized by the FIH. I am not referring here to a correct interpretation of a valid Rule statement using different wording with the same meaning, which would be acceptable, but to contradiction. This exception does not even appear in the Dutch language edition of the Rules of Hockey produced by the KNHB themselves.

Even if this exception was valid (if it had been introduced by the FIH RC) there would be difficulties with the interpretation and application of it. For example, how far off the line would a defender need to advance to be no longer considered a line defender?  Would this exception overrule not only what is given about evasive action in Rule 9.8 but also what is described as dangerous play in Rule 9.9. (that is raising the ball towards another player from within 5m)? If Rule 9.9 still applied (as it should be) the exception would not be complete, there would be an exception to it, which would further complicate umpiring. If Rule 9.8 still applied there would be a contradiction created.

If Rules 9.8 and 9.9. would not apply because of this exception then there would be no emphasis on the safety of players or an enforceable demand for the consideration of the safety of other players or an enforceable demand that players behave responsibly – and the FIH Rules Committee might just as well be disbanded and cease its function. Then all National Associations could compose their own Rules, as the KNHB have done here and we could wave goodbye to participation in the Olympic Games (because of the IOC demand that there be a sole world Rule authority for any sport included in the Games)

There is also the problem of the Common Law legality of the exception. In Civil Law, accusation of the tort of negligence is often defended by pointing out that the plaintiff knew the risks and knowing of them willingly accepted them and in such circumstances there is at least contributory negligence by the plaintiff. Sport is an area where it may be claimed that participation alone carries a certain risk and that the risk must be assumed to be accepted by willing participants.

But that legal defence cannot be used if the defendant (the player who propelled the ball) has caused injury to the plaintiff due to a breach (especially a deliberate breach) of a Rule of the game being played. In hockey it is declared in Rule that to raise the ball (with no minimum height mentioned) towards an opponent within 5m is dangerous play, i.e. doing so is prohibited. There is no Rule forbidding a defender from positioning on the goal-line (if there were an umpire would be obliged to clear the goal-line of field-players before the commencement of a penalty corner).

It is also the case that causing legitimate evasive action (forcing evasion to avoid the probability of injury) defines a dangerously played ball (with no height or distance criteria for legitimate evasive action mentioned in the Rule, so no such limits can be assumed). Therefore any ball propelled towards an opponent, from any distance, where there is potential that a player may be injured if hit with it, can be a cause of (force) legitimate evasive action and can (must) be considered dangerous. Is that extreme and unreasonable? No, not when the ball can be propelled at a player at velocities in excess of 150 kmh and often is.

Demonstrating knowledge by a defending player that the ball might be propelled at the position of that defender is an insufficient justification for penalising a defender hit with the ball (or awarding a goal if evasive action is successfully taken) because it is also true that the ball might be propelled elsewhere rather than at the defender forced to evasion – the defenders cannot know with certainty where the ball will be propelled – and attackers often engage in deception to cause uncertainty about the timing and positioning of the shot.

Moreover, when there is a defender positioned on the goal-line the player propelling the ball knows where that defender is positioned both before the ball is propelled and while it is being propelled and chooses anyway to propel the ball in the direction it is propelled while having that knowledge – and also with knowledge of the existence of a duty of care towards the defending players. The admonishment (i.e. Rule – “players must”) which demands play with consideration for the safety of others is set out in the rule-book on the very first page. Players are also instructed that they are expected to play responsibly (play with care and take responsibility for their own actions) at the commencement of Rule 9 Conduct of Play.

The fact that the existence of a dangerously played ball is based on evasive action means it must be acceptable in Rule for a defender to be in a position where evasive action may become necessary, it is therefore illogical to declare that a defender should not or cannot legitimately position on the goal-line to defend the goal during a penalty corner or may be penalised simply for being so positioned or for having accepted risk. Defending the goal is not in itself irresponsible behavior and attempting to defend a goal with the hockey stick can never (unless there is backsticks) be considered to be an illegal action (intent to use the body to stop or deflect the ball is an entirely different matter – but the umpire needs to be certain of such intent before it may be penalised, a failure to stop the ball with the stick when an attempt is made to do so, cannot be assumed to be intent to use the body to stop the ball if it is missed with the stick even if the body is positioned behind the stick).

When a ball is raised at another player and obliges that player to take evasive action to avoid injury (the opposite of intent to use the body to stop the ball) it is always the fault and the responsibility of the player who chooses to raise the ball in this way, not the fault of the player towards whom the ball was raised. If any penalty is to be applied in these circumstances it should always penalise the player who raised the ball – not a difficult concept and one that is fair and completely Rule compliant.

“But that will make it more difficult to score goals” That’s true, but so what? It is right and proper that it should require considerable skill to score a goal. The emphasis of the Rules is supposed to be on player safety, not on unfairly disadvantaging defenders or making easy the scoring of goals.



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