Back in 2006 when I was a regular contributor to a ‘newbie’ named Keely Dunn joined and posted about a defender positioned in front of the goal during a penalty corner and asserted in that post that such a defended caused danger and should be penalised if hit with an attacker’s shot at the goal. I posted a reply to that assertion in which I stated that the opposite was true – that a ball raised towards another player that endangered that other player was always, provided there was no intentional use of the body by the defender to stop or deflect the ball, the fault and responsibility of the player who raised the ball. Keely Dunn’s response was a tirade of more than a thousand words in which she declared that the fact that a defender positioned between a shooter and the goal demonstrated an intention to use the body to stop the ball and she then went on to describe her dedication to umpiring, her ambition (at the time to be an Olympic Umpire) and her hard work to that end. (an absurd attempt to claim the moral high ground by asserting that I had made a personal attack on her, when I only disputed her opinion on a single issue – absurd because I was the one trying to protect players from dangerous play, while she was promoting the opposite). She finished her response by scolding me for “calling her out” and stated that if I ever did so again she would not respond – so this time I am perfectly safe from her rebukes despite the fact that I am again going to disagree with her (declare that she is wrong)  in the same way and for the same reasons. I will not accept that a defender is not allowed to defend the goal or not allowed to be in (punished for being in) any position they need to be to do so.

Below, in coloured text, is part of her analysis of the changes to the Rules of Hockey for 2019, in which she makes a similar claim to the one she made in 2006, concerning the protection offered under the Rules to a defender in front of the goal when a shot is made at the goal. That this is presented as a matter of safety is bizarre as there would seldom be any danger in such circumstances if the ball was not raised by a shooter directly towards a defender (a deflection towards a defender is rarely the result of raising the ball directly at that defender by an initial shooter).

In her defence I must point out that she has reversed the long-standing meme that an outrunning defender at a penalty corner who is attempting to tackle for the ball with his stick is committing an offence.  (She does not now refer to such out-runners as ‘suicide runners‘).

The reason for taking away a non-kitted player who can use their body inside the circle to play the ball is primarily safety. Watching a player without any real protective equipment throw themselves in front of a ball for club or country has become a Hunger Games-esque spectacle (for example, from the men’s World Cup, see the Blacksticks’ Bennett running down a Peillat drag flick, or England’s Gleghorne all but decapitating |Ireland’s O’Donoghue on the line at the end of their crossover match).

The two clips below contain the incidents referred to in the above paragraph.

I would not describe the PWGKP in the Ireland goal as a someone who had thrown himself into the path of a shot at the goal while aping the actions of a fully kitted goalkeeper, but rather as someone genuinely trying to get out of the way of the ball because he believed he would be badly injured if hit with it.

It is part of the training of goalkeepers to persuade them that a hit with the ball to the head when they are wearing a helmet is not life threatening (although there have been some nasty injuries caused to goalkeepers by the failure of a sub-standard helmet or a previously weakened eye-grill) and get them to use the helmet to deflect the ball. This training is not easy as it is counter-intuitive to most people, and it can be no surprise that a field-player who has not been properly trained as a goalkeeper should react as if his head was not protected with a helmet. (Injuries to the side of the head, including fractures of the skull, are not uncommon in defenders wearing face masks, who turn their face away from an incoming ball; overcoming the instinct to avert the face is not an easy task – the injury to Godfrey Irwin of Cookstown HC in the EHL comes to mind).

The Rule which penalises the raising of the ball into an outrunning defender during a penalty corner is a near copy of the part of the Explanation of application of Rule 9.9. concerning the raising of a ball towards an opponent – but there are critical differences.
The Penalty corner Rule contains reference to a height limit (knee height), Rule 9.9. does not, Rule 9.9 refers to the strokes used to propel the ball, while Rule 13.3.l does not. (but I believe it sensible to consider a ball that has been raised with a hit or an intentional deflection into a close opponent in open play to be dangerous play). Do you see how unnecessarily diverse and complicated the Rules are even in simple matters such as raising the ball towards a close opponent? More about that following the last video below

At lower levels, the benefit to pulling the goalkeeper is still too often an exercise in futility where a hapless defender stands on the penalty spot wearing a different—coloured shirt, terrified to leave and create the numerical advantage that is the sole benefit of the exercise.

Teams are now constrained to using only all field players to create the numerical advantage (or continue playing a match where a fully—kitted goalkeeper is unavailable). It doesn’t change the fact that we have unprotected players running around in the circle, but hopefully, there will be less incentive for anyone brave soul to sacrifice their limbs for goal-saving glory. I nominate this the rule Most Likely To Be Forgotten It Was Ever Different When The Next Rule Book Comes Out.

Way less to remember. There are no fewer than 24 instances (yes, I counted them because I’m a giver that way) in the rule book where a PWGKP was specified in addition to the goalkeeper and those are now all gone. No more arguing about putting on helmets, whether they can wear the goalkeeper’s blockers on penalty corners, or reminding attackers that YES THEY CAN USE THEIR FEET, PLEASE JUST PLAY ON NOW CHEERS.

I am surprised that anyone could have doubted that a player in the position that used to be referred to as ‘kicking back’ could use their feet, but I suppose it is possible since PWGKP was introduced into terminology some years ago. But this mess is not going to be forgotten. It was wise of the FIH HRB to insist on a fully equipped goalkeeper when they did and a mistake to withdraw that requirement – despite the difficulties with the expense of kit in some regions. The eroding attitude to the safety of defenders positioned in front of the goal does not inspire confidence in the wisdom of the FIH RC in making the change made for 2019-. I believe the only reasonable course is to go back to the fully equipped goalkeeper being a compulsory element of a team, in the same way that helmets became compulsory for goalkeepers.  (It’s daft to compel a goalkeeper to wear a helmet but not compel a team to have a goalkeeper, and also to have the option to replace a fully kitted goalkeeper with a field player – who will be shot at as if he or she were a fully equipped goalkeeper.)

However, you’re likely going to have more situations where you have difficult decisions to make regarding dangerous play, i.e. when attackers shoot at goal with field players in the way. You’ll need to continue to keep in mind the idea that defenders who are standing in front of the goal doing their best Maddie Hinch are choosing to put themselves in danger (and really need to stop that, m’kay?).

No not m’kay or okay. An attacker who chooses to raise the ball at an opponent in a way that endangers that opponent (forces self-defence for example), chooses to commit a foul and should be penalised. A player who carelessly or recklessly raises the ball towards another player (I believe the change to “opponent” to be a mistake – the emphasis should be on the safety of all players – hospital emergency rooms will not make a distinction between injured same team or opposing team players) commits an offence and should be penalised.

Defenders who are marking, intercepting, closing down the ball or otherwise making an attempt to tackle are NOT putting themselves in danger and need to be protected.

Of course they are putting themselves in danger, given the present penalty-corner set up they have no choice but to do so. Anything which facilitates the near immediate making of a shot at the goal will be stupidly dangerous to defenders trying to prevent that shot and having to run between 12m and 14m towards opponents in possession of the ball to do so, especially with the present attitude towards a ball raised towards a defender – even if it is only allowed below knee height when the opponent is within 5m.(any defender positioned beyond 5m is apparently ‘fair game’) The penalty-corner needs to be replaced with a power-play conducted in the opponent’s 23m area and the now necessary ‘charge’ eliminated.

I don’t hate this change. Simple is usually better, and safety (when real and not imagined) is no one’s enemy. it’ll also make teams more cautious when pulling their goalkeeper. But when they do, they’ll go for goal with more rigour, making for more exciting, attacking hockey at the right moments.

I very much doubt what is written in the last sentence. Attackers will still back into opponents, spin and ‘look for a foot’, at present they are given, because of ‘umpiring practice’, no reason not to.

The above clip is an excellent example of the degrading of Rule to the point where it is applied in the opposite way to that which it was obviously intended it be applied. Any forcing action is still supposed to be dealt with (penalised) under “other Rules”. What other Rule if the ball is not raised? Your guess would be welcome.

The ARG player who makes a tackle and gets possession of the ball has several options immediately available to him but realizes what the team needs most is time to position to take advantage of their possession of the ball – they are closely grouped and still recovering from the chase-back to retrieve the ball from their opponents and so are not ideally placed to exploit possession. So what does he do? He decides to ‘win’ a free ball.  He has no hesitation in raising the ball and aiming it into the legs of the NZ player (contrary to what is given with Rule 9.9), who is attempting to position to tackle him because he fully expects the umpires to ignore this foul and to penalise the player hit with the ball. As it happened the NZ player intercepted the ball with his stick, but the ARG player appealed for a contact offence anyway, possibly hoping that the umpire was too far away to be certain of what actually happened (the umpire was still recovering from his move to the baseline in anticipation of an NZ attack, but must have seen that the ball was raised from close range into the NZ player? No?) The umpire followed expectation and awarded penalty against the player the ball was raised at, following the claimed contact, and the ARG player got away with this blatant cheating.

This raises the matter of the positioning of umpires and the number of officials on the pitch. I think, at this level, there should be five officials. Four flag officials running the arcs between the half-line and the goal-posts, each responsible for one side of a single half of the pitch, with some overlap around the half-way line, and an umpire in the center between the circles running the diagonals between the widths of the circles. In that way almost all incidents on the pitch should be supervised by at least two close officials and often by three. Should anyone think this number excessive they might consider that a top level tennis match is supervised by eight officials (seven of them with a very limited task) and the playing area and the number of players involved is a fraction of that used to play a hockey match.

I view the shot at the head of the IRE PWGKP when there was nobody guarding the left post and therefore much of the left side of the goal open, as cheating i.e. as deliberate dangerous play. In my view the (highly skilled) shooter deliberately targeted the defender knowing the defender would not be able to adequately defend himself. A risible comment? If you like, but despite my Irish blood there are no ‘sour grapes’, a 3-2 loss is as much a loss as a 4-2 loss. There can be no doubt (the opinion of Keely Dunn aside) that the shot was dangerous play by the shooter and it was played where it was played deliberately. A small risk as ENG were winning anyway, but maybe the shooter thought a shot wide of the defender would be more easily saved. There was nobody doing “a Maddie Hitch impression”, there was desperate evasive action, which in the circumstances was, I believe, legitimate. That shot would have been saved easily by a competent goalkeeper but a PWGKP, wearing only a helmet for additional protection (which he would not have been accustomed to wearing), stood very little chance of stopping it.

July 2020 and i need to add to this article comment about acceptance of risk and a defender choosing to position (probably on the goal-line) to defend the goal because of risible comments made by the Umpire Manager at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“Of course” he says but why “Of course” The usual ‘other reason trotted out is ‘acceptance of risk’ – the defender choosing  to be in place  where the ball could be propelled at him or her.

Acceptance of risk is the usual, normal and reasonable acceptance of the fact that in the course of a sport (or other activity) a player may be injured by accident. In such circumstances a player cannot claim compensation for damages because of such injury (it’s a legal principle). BUT, the principle hangs on the actions of others being reasonable in the context and very importantly on the actions being legal i.e. not against the Rules of the sport being engaged in.

Raising the ball at an opponent in a way that endangers that opponent and causes that opponent to take or attempt to take evasive action is dangerous play – and dangerous play is neither a reasonable or legal action in hockey, it is an offence, a foul. It matters not that it is legal to raise the ball at the goal at any height when shooting in open play. It is NOT legal to endanger another player while doing so. So the risk that that may happen is not something that can be ‘accepted’.

The fact is that it is the shooter who chooses to propel the ball by raising it, who chooses to propel it at maximum velocity, and who chooses not to avoid hitting defenders he or she is able to see are positioned between his or her position and the goal. The defender on the other hand is positioned where an attacker might propel the ball, the goal being 3.66m wide. Choice is with the shooter, not the defender of the shot, who is often forced by the action of the shooter to self-defence. All players MUST act with consideration for the safety of others. “Of course” they must – that Rule is given on page one of the rule-book where even the most reluctant of readers can easily find it.

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