Archive for December 30th, 2018

December 30, 2018

The prevention of a tackle attempt and Rule wording

Edited 1st January 2019

We move into 2019 with the FIH Rules Committee once again having failed to grasp the opportunity to put right some major flaws in the Rules of Hockey. Here I take another detailed look at the wording of the present advice and  Obstruction Rule as set out in the UMB and the Rules of Hockey, and point out some simple but, I think, desirable, amendments to clarify them without significantly changing the Rule. All suggestion, even if it might look new and completely alien, is taken from principles which were previously set out in the Obstruction Rule or given as advice to umpires post 1993.

The Umpire Manager’s Briefing for FIH Umpires at FIH Tournaments

Obstruction


∙ Are the players trying to play the ball?
∙ Is there a possibility to play the ball?
Is there active movement to prevent the playing of the ball? (my bold)

Be aware of professional use of the body to illegally block opponents from the ball, as well as players trying to demonstrate obstructions by lifting their sticks dangerously over opponents’ heads

∙ Stick obstruction is a ‘hot issue’ for players. Judge it fairly and correctly and blow only if you are 100% sure

Rules of Hockey 2019 –

Obstruction.

9.12 Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play the ball.  (my bold)

Players obstruct if they:
– back into an opponent
– physically interfere with the stick or body of an opponent
– shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body.

A stationary player receiving the ball is permitted to face in any direction.

A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it.

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this is third party or shadow obstruction). This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper) when a penalty corner is being taken.

There are problems of both syntax and semantics in the writing pertaining to the Obstruction Rule in both the advice given in UMB and the instruction given in the rule-book (the distinction between advice and instruction is an important one) and I need to start comment on them by addressing these issues. One issue is ambiguity, the UMB and the Rule Explanation both try to cover obstructive tackling, obstruction by a player in possession of the ball (the most common obstruction offence) and third-party obstruction, without making sufficient distinction between them. The UMB for example, begins:- 

Are the players trying to play the ball?

That cannot reasonably refer to a situation where an obstructing player is in controlled possession of the ball. This is a trivial point and does not make a significant difference to the possible understandings of the question put, if common sense is used, but not all of the ambiguities are trivial.

Is there a possibility to play the ball?

Presumably, the writer means:-  Is a player who might claim (or is claiming) to be obstructed in a position from which he could play at the ball? The UMB, in the advice on tackling, warns umpires against pre-judging where a legal tackle could possibly be made from, so it is acknowledged that this is not always an easy decision to make and a tackler can often attempt to play at the ball from what looks to an umpire to be an impossible position. This seems to me to be a way of denying that an obstructed player is obstructed because he or she might actually somehow be able to play at the ball, even if it looks unlikely that that is the case. It gives a ball shielding player great scope in positioning between an opponent and the ball, I think too much scope in most instances.

Is there active movement to prevent the playing of the ball?

There is a syntax error there, it is not possible to make an inactive movement, movement is an activity. The word “active” is redundant. This minor error is a pity because it spoils the flow of one of the most important pieces of advice in the UMB. An umpire might pause to consider what an active movement is. Is it a movement that is relevant rather than irrelevant?  This sentence is, however, problematical in another way, it gives the impression that the illegal prevention of a tackle attempt, i.e. obstruction, depends entirely on there being a movement to obstruct by the obstructing player, a point I will come back to.

Be aware of professional use of the body to illegally block opponents from the ball,…

That is better in one way (there is no suggestion that movement is necessary for there to be an obstruction offence). But what does “Be aware” mean (penalise?) and why is the word “professional” inserted in the statement? That is an insult to professional players.

The advice given about the penalising of stick obstruction is also unnecessary, an umpire should not penalise for any offence unless he or she is certain that it has occurred, but should not fail to penalise when a team is disadvantaged by the illegal action of an opposing team player.

The Rule Proper. 

9.12 Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play the ball.

We are then presented with Explanations of Application of the Rule, set out in several clauses most of which are definitions of obstruction. We are also provided with an Exception to the Rule. Unfortunately, many of these clauses are badly constructed or incomplete or both.

Explanation of Rule Application

Players obstruct if they:
– back into an opponent

This apparently uncontentious instruction has proved to be extremely contentious because of the way it has been interpreted, something that would not have been an issue, if it had been properly written and explained, has turned the application of the Obstruction Rule ‘on its head’. I have written more than one article on this matter. Here is one, reading it and looking at the videos within it will be helpful.

https://martinzigzag.com/2018/02/10/a-peculiar-interpretation/ 

I will place links to other articles about the Obstruction Rule at the foot of this article.

Put briefly, this clause does not say or mean back into contact with an opponent and I have put the case for interpreting it to mean ‘back into the playing reach of an opponent, while shielding the ball from that opponent, to prevent a legal tackle attempt being made’ longer but unambiguous and accurate.

– physically interfere with the stick or body of an opponent.

The Rules about physical contact are duplicated and  ‘pop-up’ all over the place in the Rules of Hockey and this is but one example of this repetition, but it is true that these actions may also constitute an Obstruction offence. When combined with “back into an opponent” we have both two obstruction offences and possibly two different physical contact or interference offences, to body and to stick. To see them all together (unpenalised) watch a shootout in almost any senior match decided in this way. The video below is of a high school championship and demonstrates  the complete unawareness of the Obstruction Rule that is now typical in hockey, world wide. This may be directly attributed to the poor standard of umpire coaching disseminated by FIH Umpire Coaches in this area of Rule.

 

 

– shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body. (my bold)

Here is another vitally important clause spoiled by a poor word choice. The word “from” is just ‘skimmed’ and accepted as is for no better reason than the fact that it is contained in a long-standing phraseology. But its use makes no sense at all, in fact takes the sense away from the ‘sentence’ because it is generally the case that no tackle can be attempted, never mind a legitimate (legal) one, when the ball is shielded (to prevent a legitimate tackle) by a player in possession of it. It would make good sense if the clause was written ‘Players obstruct if they shield the ball to prevent a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body. This is one of the very few examples of better word use in the UMB than is given in the Explanations of Application of the Rules. It should be noted (going back to my point about the absence of need for a movement to obstruct an opponent) that there is no mention of any movement by the obstructing player in this clause. Shielding the ball to prevent or delay an opponent attempting a legal tackle – because a tackle is made impossible, due to the ball shielding, for the intending tackler to immediately make a tackle for the ball, is an Obstruction offence. Advice used to be given in the rule-book to umpires that an obstruction occurred when a tackler who would otherwise have been able to play at the ball could not do so because it was shielded by the body or stick of an opponent. That sensible advice mysteriously (that is without any reason being offered for its deletion) disappeared.

  In compliance with existing Rule, defenders who attempt to run-down time by holding the ball in a corner in their own half, should be penalised with a penalty corner (and a yellow card) and those who ‘crab’ the ball along their own base-line to ‘protect’ it from opponents while taking it out of the circle, with a penalty-stroke. Intentional offences should be penalised more severely.

A stationary player receiving the ball is permitted to face in any direction.

This Rule Exception is what is left of what in 1993 was mistakenly called the ‘New Interpretation’ of the Obstruction Rule, which at the time, was set out over three pages in the Rule Interpretations section in the back of the rule-book.

The divisions into The Stationary Player and The Moving PLayer contained in that Interpretation were ridiculous (and the above clause is silly for that reason – a receiver who is moving can also be facing in any direction as the ball is received). What the writer (who I believe was the late John Gawley) was trying to say was that a stationary receiver could remain stationary to receive the ball, even if closely marked, without penalty for obstruction. Up until that time a receiver needed to make a lead run to get space, away from the playing reach of a close marking opponent, in which to receive the ball and to avoid being immediately penalised for obstruction as the ball was received within the marker’s playing reach.  That previous interpretation made hockey very difficult for a novice player to play as receiving the ball when marked required considerable skill (and made the more confined indoor hockey very difficult even for experienced players)

Also ridiculous was the “onus” on a tackler to position where a tackle could be attempted and then to make a precise play at the ball with the stick (often an impossibility because there was nothing to prevent the ball holder moving to maintain a ball shielding position. The blatant obstruction of the goalkeeper which usually occurs during shootouts is condoned by suggesting that the GK made no attempt to play at the ball, even when to legally do so was an impossibility).  But there was no mention of any onus on a ball-holder not to obstruct an opponent who was within playing distance of the ball and demonstrating an intent to make a tackle. All this heavily slanted ‘new interpretation’ (which was the extreme opposite of previous practice and not just a reasonable modification) was struck out of the rule-book in 2004, but there are still today umpire coaches, who were probably active umpires in 1993 and after, who continue to coach to new umpires the ‘interpretation’ extant at that time – which was basically, if a tackler could not play directly at the ball he or she could not be obstructed. The flaw in that approach should be obvious to all, the illegal prevention of a tackle attempt was not considered at all in a Rule which should have been about exactly that.

To be clear, I think the introduction of protection for a ball receiving player was an excellent idea because it opened up tactical opportunities, which had existed before (as the German teams under Paul Lisseck had demonstrated) but which were very rarely used. I do not want to go back to a situation where all a marker had to do to win a free ball was clatter into the back of an opponent who was receiving the ball while pretending to be attempting a tackle. That said the protection given to a receiving player, a temporary exemption from the Obstruction Rule, must not be extended into the play after the ball has been received and controlled. I am then in favour of the original “must move away” rather than the present “is permitted to move off” which is neither directive nor prohibitive, so a choice between opposites and not a Rule instruction at all.

A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it.

That is probably the most badly constructed clause in the rule-book. It starts by making a Rule statement that, as mentioned above, is neither directive or prohibitive and which it is therefore unnecessary to make (and which could, in fact, have been omitted entirely) and then gives two exceptions to that statement which both prohibit described actions. Setting out the proscribed actions alone would have been simpler and clearer and would probably have led to better Rule application. I think this, below, would be much better even if somewhat longer, because it is directive and, I think, unambiguous even if perhaps unduly recursive in construction:-

A unambiguous version

A player with the ball is not permitted to move bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent, who is within playing distance of the ball,  in a position of balance to make a tackle, i.e. not facing or reaching in the wrong direction, and is demonstrating an intent to play at the ball.

Having received the ball a receiver must then, without delay, either play the ball away or immediately move with the ball away from opponents, to put and keep it beyond the playing reach of any opponent. Keeping the ball beyond the playing reach of an opponent may include eluding a tackle attempt by an in-range opponent as long as the ball is constantly kept open to that opponent and not shielded in any way, with body or stick, that prevents a legitimate tackler attempt.

And finally we have the afterthought, which was at one time, all that there was of the Obstruction Rule.

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this is third party or shadow obstruction). This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper) when a penalty corner is being taken.

That clause is and always has been a muddle of two very different kinds of obstruction. The word “also” is also in the wrong place.

An expanded alternative which includes some long ago deleted but still relevant previous guidance for players and umpires:-

A player who runs in front of or blocks off an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this may also be third party obstruction). Third party obstruction may occur if an attacker runs across or blocks off out-running defenders (including a goalkeeper) when a penalty corner is being taken.

It is not necessary for the obstructed player to be within playing distance of the ball at the time a third-party obstruction occurs, all that is required for offence is the prevention of opportunity to intercept the ball or challenge an opposing player for the ball, when but for the obstruction the obstructed player would have been able to achieve one or other of these objectives. 

The Rule on ball-body contact – 9.11 – could also be reconstituted and greatly improved with  a combination of current and previous wording, but it really needs a new approach. That basically is a focus on ball-body contact by a player in possession of the ball rather than by a tackler or defender hit with the ball.

https://wordpress.com/post/martinzigzag.com/11605

The Rules on dangerous play (there are several scatted throughout the Rules text) need a rethink, particularly the Rules concerning the dangerously played ball. 9.8, 9.9, 9.10 and those contained in the Rules of the penalty corner. I have written articles with suggestions for all of these Rules. The dangerously played ball needs to be judged far more objectively, for example, more height limits introduced. Legitimate evasive action has long been ignored as a criterion largely because it is both difficult to determine and is inadequate. A player hit with the ball has anyway often no opportunity to try to get out of the way of it. As John Gawley wrote in another umpire coaching document back in 2001. “No player should ever be forced to self-defence”

Elephants in the Room

Elephants in the Room. We have recent Rule changes, like the facility to play at the ball above shoulder height, which ought to be far more restrictive than they are and some ancient Rules (written back in 1908) which are no longer fit for purpose.

https://martinzigzag.com/2018/12/30/the-prevention-of-a-tackle-attempt/

Links to some other Obstruction Rule articles.

https://martinzigzag.com/2018/05/08/the-obstruction-see-saw/

https://martinzigzag.com/2018/07/08/preventing-a-tackle-ball-shielding/

https://martinzigzag.com/2018/03/08/why-did-this-happen/

https://martinzigzag.com/2018/02/10/attempting-to-play-the-ball/

https://martinzigzag.com/2015/10/31/rewrite-rule-9-12-obstruction/

There are also many articles about other Rules in which I make reference to the Obstruction Rule or post videos of examples of breach of it, but attempting to read through the above list should be enough to make you as crazy as I am.