Archive for April, 2019

April 27, 2019

What next, transition.

Is the player in the picture below receiving a pass or was he already in possession of the ball and then moved ahead of the it, to place himself between the defender and the ball? There is a huge difference. The second described action, which appears, from the positioning of the defender, to be what is happening, is a foul. The player with the ball might also be committing a physical contact offence.

Way back at the dawn of time (well actually in 1992) I sat a few seats away from the late George Croft, at the time Hon, Secretary of the FIH Hockey Rules Board, at a table during the AGM of Surbiton Hockey Club, of which we were both members, and listened to him expound to the assembled members on the introduction of an upcoming new interpretation of the Obstruction Rule.

I was troubled by what George Croft said because it was clear to me that what was being introduced was not a new interpretation of obstruction at all (what constituted obstruction was not being changed in any way) but an exception to the Obstruction Rule, a circumstance in which the Obstruction Rule did not immediately apply, followed by an explanation of how play was then to transition back to the usual application of the Rule.

But I sat there listened to what was said and to my subsequent regret did not voice by reservations about these proposals.

An odd thing about the “new interpretation” was that wording of the Rule Proper did not change at all. It remained:-

12.1 (m) A player shall not obstruct by running between an opponent and the ball nor interpose himself or his stick as an obstruction.

So what Rule wording the ‘new interpretation’ was interpreting was a mystery. The Obstruction Rule very quickly became what individual umpires said it was, based on very fuzzy criteria, and ‘interpretation’ became a ‘runaway train’

(In 2001 the FIH HRB asked the FIH Executive to issue a Circular pointing out to National Associations that nobody, no individual and no other committee but the FIH HRB, had the authority to change or issue a Rule or an interpretation of a Rule . The FIH Executive issued that Circular.

Some unfortunate later developments, such as the idea that a shot at the goal could not be considered dangerous play – a dangerous nonsense – and the ridiculous ‘2007 ‘gains benefit’ saga,  would probably have been avoided if the text of that Circular had been included in subsequent rule-books, but it was a Circular issued once and then rather quickly ‘forgotten’, especially by umpire coaches)

This new interpretation of the Obstruction Rule was set out over a page and a half of the Technical Interpretations section at the back of the rule-book and contained a number of ‘principles’. I will focus here on the only one that survives (sort of) in the current Obstruction Rule.


Now the principles are:

The receiving stationary player may be facing in any direction.(the only part that survives in the current Rule Explanation)
• The onus is on the tackler to move into position, i.e. usually
to move round the receiver, to attempt a legitimate tackle.
• Thus the tackler must not crash into a receiver and thereby
try to claim obstruction, any such action should be firmly penalised.

Having collected the ball, the receiver must move away in any
direction (except, of course, bodily into the tackler).
Accordingly, the receiver is being allowed to collect the ball and
proceed with play – with the onus on the tackler to move into
position where an attempt can be made to play the ball without
contact with the receiver.

This new interpretation completely reversed the existing practice and also contained an obvious contradiction that no-one seemed to notice at the time (Maybe wilful blindness, but in those days no-one even considered challenging the Rule pronouncements of the FIH HRB). It should have been obvious to all that if a tackler has to move around a player who is shielding the ball from him, to reach the ball with his stick, then his direct path to the ball is being obstructed. No path other than a direct path to the ball was previously considered or is (sic) now suggested.

Stopping tacklers crashing into the back of receiving players while claiming to be obstructed was a welcome change and the safety aspect of this change was pushed hard, to the extent that the inconsistency mentioned above was ignored. It was declared that the new interpretation improved the game (ignoring that crashing into the back of an opponent was dangerous play and a physical contact offence anyway and should not previously have been rewarded ).

It certainly did, there was a vast tactical improvement as back-passing, always an option but hardly explored at all before this point (a notable exception was the German national team under Paul Lissek), became part of the usual tactics of high level teams. It took several years before back-passing became common in club hockey especially below First-Team level (but by then the Obstruction Rule, as was, had all but disappeared). But this ‘interpretation’ also created a muddle out of what was once a clear Rule.

Now we come to the text below the third bullet point. The transition :-

Having collected the ball, the receiver must move away in any direction (except, of course, bodily into the tackler).

Umpires found this difficult to apply and inconsistencies in application appeared. Some umpires penalised if the receiver dwelt on the ball in control longer than was considered necessary to “immediately” pass it away or move away with the ball and others didn’t (how the player was to move away and the umpire transition to the ‘non-receiving’ application of the Obstruction Rule became contentious). The result was that in 1995 a further change was considered necessary to the new interpretation – a change of one word was made – it was a change that destroyed the Obstruction Rule.

Having collected the ball the receiver may move away in any direction (except, of course, bodily into the tackler).

The change from “must” to “may” replaced a clear instruction to take a particular action – move away – with a choice; this vital aspect of the Rule was no longer directive or prohibitive, (the receiver could choose not to move away. and there then developed a ‘school of thought’ that a stationary ball holder wasn’t doing anything and therefore could not be obstructing) in other words there was no application of the Obstruction Rule in these circumstances and very quickly in any other as players already in controlled possession of the ball were treated as if they were receivers and they turned on and with the ball at will in contested situations (Many spectators of ‘the modern game’ – including match commentators – have no idea these actions are fouls because they have never seen such play penalised as it should be).

By 1998 George Croft found it necessary to point out to participants in the Preface of the Rules of Hockey that “despite what some people think, there is still an Obstruction Rule”

In 2004 the rule-book was reformatted and largely rewritten. The entire section called by that time Rules Interpretations was simply deleted. Yet umpires who had been trained when it was extant still continued to apply the Obstruction Rule as if this deleted interpretation was still in force. Many umpire coaches also continued to coach new umpires as if this deleted interpretation was extant – and still do. Only last week someone (an umpire) referred, in a comment to me, to the onus on a tackler to move around an opponent who is shielding the ball. I am not surprised this easy way of avoiding applying the Obstruction Rule is still ‘wheeled out’, because it is easy, but it hasn’t been in a rule-book for fifteen years

(the requirement to “go around” was always ridiculous and unfair as there was nothing done to prevent the ball holder from moving his body or the ball or both, to maintain a shielding position – and in any case moving to one side of a ball holder presented him with the opportunity to spin away from the tackle attempt in the opposite direction and leave the tackler behind – so it was a very foolish action for a defender to take unless the ball could be intercepted before it reached an intended receiver.

The result was (and still is) that when a ball holder received the ball and stood still or tuned over the ball to shield it, defenders tended to step back and stand off, often out of playing reach of the ball so that they would not be ‘caught out’ by a sudden turn and acceleration – and we got static and congested situations developing. It also very quickly led to the ugly tactic of holding a ball in the corner of the pitch or against a sideline, generally to run time or wait for support or opportunity to ‘win’ a side-line ball or a free ball by forcing a foot contact !!!).

The current ‘instruction’ to a receiver of the ball has been further weakened by (in 2004) replacing the word “away” (which was at one time taken to mean away from and beyond the playing reach of the player intending to tackle) with the word “off” (which does not mean “away”) and later replaced “may” (I believe in 2006) with a term that means exactly the same thing, “is permitted to” (this gives the impression that being permitted to move off (or away) was something new that was not previously encouraged rather than something that had previously been demanded).

  The receiving action and the transition to normal Rule application were then also split into separate paragraphs or Rule clauses.

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 stationary player is mentioned in the Rule Explanation because prior to September 1993 it would have been necessary for a closely marked receiver to make a lead run to get to a position beyond the playing reach of an opponent to receive the ball, thus avoiding the possibility of immediately being penalised for obstruction if he remained stationary (this is now long forgotten). Receiving the ball was a skill that prior to 1993 demanded far more of a receiver than just the ability to take controlled possession of the ball, he also needed to move to create the space to receive.  Skilled receiving players could however easily make a charging marker/tackler look foolish and take advantage of the space he had just vacated.

The reading (and understanding) of the second part of what is permitted usually stops just before the word “except”. “A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction…..” I have lost count of the number of time I have been informed in comment that a player with the ball can move in any direction and does not have to move at all but can stand still shielding the ball to prevent a tackle attempt – and if moving the ball cannot obstruct – which is nonsense. The words “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.” are vital to correct application of the Rule (I would prefer “demonstrating an intention to play at the ball”).  The wording after “except bodily into an opponent” (in blue bold above) was added in 2009 and was the last amendment made by the FIH RC to this Rule. It was an attempt to correct much of the previous damage done, but it is widely ignored.

Now a couple of visual examples. It is assumed that the near player in each of the pictures below is receiving the ball, The question between 1993 and 1995 would have been (if there had been any way of widely asking such a question at that time) “At what point should the umpire be considering an Obstruction Offence?” The answer would have been “As soon as the receiver has controlled the ball and has had opportunity to pass it away or move away with it, but does not do so” That is still the case but it is not unusual to see captions on photographs stating ball shielding to prevent a tackle attempt, as if that is a legitimate action or to hear match commentators on video praising ball-shielding as a great skill – it isn’t, it’s a dumbing down of the skill required to play hockey and it is not Rule compliant.


Now in 2019 an umpire might consider penalising the player in possession if he moves backwards into physical contact with a defender, but if that did happen an umpire would be just as likely to penalise the defender for the contact.

What should be happening when a player in possession backs while shielding the ball towards a defender who is in a balanced position and intent on making a tackle for the ball, is that the ball-holder should be penalised for Obstruction (illegally preventing a tackle attempt by imposing his body) as soon as he moves the ball, while shielding it, to within the direct playing reach (an objective distance generally about 1.5m) of that defender.

Would such application lead to an increase in Obstruction offences and whistle blowing? Yes of course, until players once again learned how to play field-hockey instead of a strange version of hurling or soccer that did not require much stick-work ability. That might take a couple of weeks. Prior to 1993 (when players did not have the advantage of the protection of a Rule exception when receiving the ball and frequently needed to make lead runs to create space) most players managed to play hockey without often getting themselves penalised for obstruction. I managed to play entire seasons without once being penalised for this offence. It was no more difficult for a fit and alert player to avoid offending via obstruction than it was avoiding being in an off-side position – yes we had that too in the ‘good old days’.

April 21, 2019

Left behind and forgotten

The original Obstruction Rule was no more than a sentence which set out a prohibition on a tackler running between a player in possession of the ball and the ball (generally while attempting to tackle), but this idea was also combined with what was later called third party obstruction. There was no distinction made between these two forms of obstruction. No mention at all was made of a player in possession of the ball obstructing a tackler.

This is taken from the Rules of Hockey for 1976 but there had been no change for at least the previous twenty-five years:-

12.1 (j) A player shall not obstruct by running between an opponent and the ball or interpose himself or his stick as an obstruction.

This wording with only slight modification has been the Rule or has been tacked onto the end of the extant version of the Rule ever since. Below is the current version of that now final Rule clause:-

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.

It should be apparent that the current version also conflates all obstructions; there is no clear distinction made between third party obstruction and any other sort of obstruction. This could very easily be addressed by moving the existing word “also” and adding the words “may … be’ to either side of it in a new position and by adding the word “also” to the last sentence. This could be done in much the same way that the word “also” was in 2019 added to Rule 9.8. It would then read:-

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 may also be third-party obstruction).

This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper) when a penalty corner is being taken.

The current version of the Obstruction Rule does acknowledge the existence of obstruction by a player in possession of the ball even if the modern umpire very seldom does. In the picture below the PIP who is facing the left side-line, is sidestepping towards his own goal while shielding the ball to block off the defender and prevent a tackle attempt, this is contrary to Rule.

A player who blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing.

in other words the prevention of a tackle attempt by blocking off an opponent from the ball, is an illegal action. Play here continued without penalty. Even the defending players don’t seem to be aware that an obstructive offence has been committed by the ball holder. Would the PIP do this if he knew it was an offence that would be penalised? Strange isn’t it? Player are obliged to know and abide by the Rules: all participants are, that includes umpires. What is preventing participants knowing the Rules and more importantly, abiding by them? It seems to be the FIH Umpiring Committee via their coaching staff, even if the UMB which is issued by the FIH UC mentions tackle prevention in this badly worded (active movement ?) (professional ?) advice:-

• Is there active movement to prevent the playing of the ball?
• Be aware of professional use of the body to illegally block opponents from the ball

All games are defined by the Rules they are played to. The players in the picture below might be playing a game called stick-ball, or something similar to hurling but with a hockey stick and ball (so not hurling). They are not playing field-hockey even if most of the skills employed in the play are similar to those of field-hockey, because a fundamental Rule of field-hockey is being ignored by all – officials as well as players.

Photo by Frank Uijlenbroek / World Sport Pics