Dangerously Played Ball Rules should be amended.

Rules of Hockey.

9.8 Players must not play the ball dangerously or in a way
which leads to dangerous play.

While playing or attempting to play at the ball a player will possibly  endanger another player as a result of :- 1) the way in which the ball is propelled 2) the way in which the stick is used 3) bodily contact.

I am not in favour of the recent change that confines endangerment to opposing players, on the basis that a player who endangers a team-mate has not disadvantaged opponents, that does not fit with an emphasis on safety. Staff in hospital emergency treatment rooms are not concerned about who was responsible for an injury during a game, only that there is an injury that needs treatment – that is the attitude umpires need to adopt in order to try to prevent injuries occurring.

A player may even recklessly endanger him or her self by, for example, attempting a tackle with a headfirst dive directly into the feet of an opponent. This sort of recklessness must be discouraged with penalty because it is irresponsible.

(Many years ago I issued a yellow card to a player who was hit on the head with an opponent’s stick while attempting a tackle in this way as the opponent was in the act of hitting at the ball. He needed to go off anyway to have his injury treated but the “Don’t do that” message needed to be sent).

Dangerously propelled ball.

A ball has been dangerously propelled when it puts another player at risk of injury, that is obvious, but the Rules as presently written do not require injury or even the potential for injury for there to be dangerous play. We have this from the Explanation of Application of Rule 9.9.

Players are permitted to raise the ball with a flick
or scoop provided it is not dangerous. A flick or
scoop towards an opponent within 5 metres is
considered dangerous.

There is nothing in that Explanation about height or velocity so it is far too severe to be applied literally in every instance and this instruction is thus widely ignored by umpires, the problem with that is that even when flicks and scoops are made at high level and at high velocity towards other players umpires tend to continue ignore this type of endangerment. A second issue with this Explanation is that there appears to be no constraint on any raising of the ball towards another player from beyond 5m. One has only to look at the way in which drag-flicks are propelled during a penalty corner to see how ridiculous this is.

It also needs to be pointed out that a dangerously played ball is defined in Rule 9.8. as a ball propelled in such a way as to cause an opponent to take legitimate evasive action: there is no distance limit given for legitimate evasive action, ergo evasive action is legitimate in any circumstance where a player is obliged to evade the ball to in order to avoid injury, irrespective of the distance of that player from the ball at the time it was propelled. Obviously over distances in excess of twenty or thirty metes a ball will lose velocity and opponents will have ample time to play at it with the stick. But to apply the same criteria to a ball that has been propelled at another player at high velocity, from say six meters, is absurd when the ball may be traveling at a velocity in excess of 120 kph. Umpires are advised several times in the UMB to apply common sense. This is an area where common sense is absent and a Rule change is required.

Ignoring the Rules written by the FIH Rules Committee is connived at by the FIH Umpiring Committee in these two statements in the UMB under the heading Ball off the ground.

Blow only in dangerous situations everywhere on the pitch –
forget lifted, think danger
Low balls over defenders sticks in a controlled manner that hit
half shin pad are not dangerous

These statements directly contradict both Rule 9,9 and the Explanation of what constitutes dangerous play given in the Explanation of Rule 9.9. This is direct contradiction in what is the most important aspect of an umpire’s role – fair play coupled with player safety. There is actually more about dangerous play written in Rule 9.9, which is about an intentionally raised hit, than there is in Rule 9.8. But I will get to Rule 9.9. next.

What needs to be done to rectify the first part of the present Rule 9.8. is obvious, but putting the obvious into clear instructions and then into a Rule is not so easy.

It is also obvious that umpires who apply the ‘standard’ at an opponent within 5m and at knee height or above are not applying the provided Rule about a dangerously raised ball, but adding to it the part of the Penalty Corner Rule which is relates to a first hit shot made during a penalty corner (probably because there is no other objective criterion offered anywhere in the Rules – shoulder height is mentioned in the rule-book, but that height is obviously inappropriate).

They are not going to stop doing that, the habit is too ingrained, so the Rule needs to be reformulated using additional distances, both less than and greater than five meters, and additional heights, both less than and greater than knee height. Ball velocity also needs to be used as a criteria.

We can start at what is supposed to be the current position – any ball raised towards an opponent within 5m is a dangerous play offence (note intent to raise the ball into an opponent is not a consideration for offence if the action occurs).

That is silly, because there is no mention of height or velocity, and it is easy to see why the FIH Umpiring Committee have contradicted it – even though they have no authority whatsoever to do so and should instead have liaised with the FIH Rules Committee to obtain an amendment.

Old Rule is in someways better:-

A player shall not hit [the ball] wildly into an opponent or play or kick the ball in such a way as to be dangerous in itself, or likely to lead to dangerous play.

How often we see a wild strike at the ball that propels the ball ‘through’ an opponent ‘justified’ as a shot at the goal.

So to start,

Any ball raised towards an opponent from within two meters, at above shoe height and at any velocity, will be considered an offence if it hits the opponent – provided of course that the opponent does not clearly intentionally stop the ball with his or her body when the ball would otherwise not have hit it.

In effect the offence of Forcing is restored but not exactly as it was – height is mentioned, intent is not.

Any ball raised towards an opponent from within five meters, at knee height or above and at a velocity that could cause pain or injury to that opponent will be considered a dangerous play offence. This includes shots made at the goal.

Any ball raised towards an opponent from within twenty meters, at sternum height or above and at a velocity that could cause pain or injury to that opponent will be considered a dangerous play offence. This includes shots made at the goal.

I have abandoned legitimate evasive action as a criterion. It is a subjective judgement which is used to define another subjective judgement (dangerous) and as such is inadequate and totally inappropriate. The only person who can really know if evasive action is legitimate, when the ball is propelled directly at him or her, is the player the ball is propelled at. Evasive action is only obviously not legitimate when the ball would not have hit the ‘evading’ player anyway.

Now to consider “or leads to dangerous play”. The current Rule is the result of a change to wording, that used to read (as above) “or likely to lead to dangerous play” which I think was better because it allowed an umpire to judge for potentially dangerous situations and intervene before there was any actual danger – which if done properly is obviously fairer and safer. Now it seems an umpire has to wait until there is dangerous play following an action that leads to it – which does not fit with an emphasis on safety. I see no reason why these clauses cannot be joined, so we get ” leads or is likely to lead to dangerous play” umpires can then determine their own margins of risk of danger actually occurring.

What are the potentially dangerous actions we are considering? The three most common are probably lofting the ball with a scoop or flick stroke so that it falls into an area where it will be immediately contested for by opponents who are already occupying that area – the subject matter of Rule 9.10, which I will get to in a following post. The second, which is seldom penalised,  is ‘blasting’ the ball directly towards an opponent from close range. This does not really need further comment – it’s clear reckless play, done without any consideration for the safety of another player. The third is bouncing the ball on the stick while ‘taking on’ and trying to ‘beat’ one or more opponents – which I will address here.

There is previous Advice to Umpires on this subject, at one time in the back of rule-books, which might now be considered ancient, but which could (with modification) usefully be resurrected.

The practice of carrying or bouncing the ball on the stick is
disapproved, because it becomes dangerous play when
the player concerned is tackled by an opponent, who is then
forced to play the ball in the air. Whenever it is continued to
this point it should be penalised.

Contesting for the ball in the air is discouraged in other Rule and it makes sense to uniformly discourage it. All that needs to be added to the above text is a height to which the ball may be raised and bounced without attracting penalty for actual or potentially dangerous play. Knee height seems to me to be an appropriate height; much above that and an opponent’s swing at the ball is likely to cause a stick inflicted injury as well as likely to cause the ball to go high. High ball bouncing – say at about elbow height – may look spectacular, but it is no more skillful than beating an opponent along the ground and besides it is a hurling skill not a hockey skill and while I am not opposed to importing team formations and tactics from a game like association football, I am opposed to adopting some of the playing techniques of that game, such as physical contact and ball shielding and I don’t want to see inappropriate practice imported from other games.

Different Rules make for different games and a hockey ball is too hard and heavy (compared to a hurling sliota) to have it much in the air in contested situations. Besides, having taken part in hurling matches (where the sliota is in the air for at least 30% of the time), I can tell you that one of the attractions of the sport for most of the participants is knocking ‘seven bells’ out of opponents with the hurl while pretending to be trying to obtain the sliotar, the game is like a mix of hockey and rugby with no discernible limitations on physical abuse as long as, ostensibly, the sliotar is being contested for. Off the ball fighting, enjoyable as that may be, is not allowed, but of course it frequently occurs in that sort of environment – just as it does in ice-hockey, where it is also part of the spectacle hugely anticipated by fans. Both of these sports have ‘best fights’ videos online.

I have seen it asserted that in ball bouncing circumstances in hockey matches (to return to near civilization) that it is a tackling defender who causes danger; that’s partially true, but it misses two points. Firstly, if a defender is not permitted to tackle an opponent who is bouncing the ball because that will be dangerous, that puts the defender unfairly at a disadvantage because of action taken by an opponent – that’s unfair – and no Rule should be inherently unfair. Secondly, the player bouncing the ball will likely breach the second part of Rule 9.8. “or play leading to dangerous play.” The dangerous play led to can be by the player who created the initial potentially dangerous situation or an opposing player.

As this post is now lengthy I will consider dangerous use of the stick and dangerous use of the body in subsequent posts.

2 Comments to “Dangerously Played Ball Rules should be amended.”

  1. I’m not sure that these rules adequately cover all situations. For example, a raised ball from a full-speed hit is certainly capable of causing injury to an opponent 10m away, even if it is between knee and sternum height.

    • Objectively you are correct but the subjective legitimate evasive action criterion remains in place and one would hope that an umpire would apply it – admittedly not much of a hope at the moment.

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