Archive for June 29th, 2019

June 29, 2019

Misquoting the Obstruction Rule

Rules of Hockey.

Why is the Obstruction Rule so ‘damaged’ that it is constantly being misquoted and assertions made about tackling requirements that do not exist?

See the hockey forum thread via the above link which contains a number of misquotations of the Rule clauses in the first few posts.
(The thread later moves onto, in typical forum style, an ‘on the head of a pin’ type discussion about foot position relative to line and ball position as that concerns a ball to be out of play, which are irrelevant to the topic. This is not unusual in an Internet forum when a sensible question about either obstruction or a dangerously played ball has been (deliberately) diverted with rubbish answers, the nonsense then continues in a different direction as a diversion which readers quickly tire of)

One of the most common assertions is that if the direct path to the ball of a player intent on making a tackle is blocked (there is an obstruction) by the player in possession of the ball, there is an ‘onus’ on the tackler to position (reposition) to a place where he or she will be able to play directly at the ball (ignoring that an opponent within playing distance of the ball and demonstrating an intend to make a tackle attempt has already in these circumstance been illegally prevented from playing at the ball i.e. obstructed).

In effect this “go around” or “position” ‘requirement’ demands that a tackler must be obstructed twice before he or she is considered to have been obstructed at all). Here are the relevant Rule clauses (possibly) Stationary and (presumably) Moving.

Players obstruct if they shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body.
That would better be written:-
Players obstruct if they shield the ball to prevent a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body. (See the UMB  Is there any action to prevent a tackle attempt)
(A tackle from any position is legitimate as long as the tackler does not make physical contact with the player in possession of the ball – such physical contact would be a breach of Rule 9.13 as well as Rule 9.3).

Then we have movement of the ball holder:-

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 last clause bears repeating in another way:-

A player in possession of the ball is not permitted to move to position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and demonstrating an attempt to play at it.

(Attempting to play at the ball is generally seen as a tackler moving to a position from which a tackle CAN be made, but it is very easy for a ball shielding player to move to maintain a ball shielding position and make a tackle impossible from any change of position a player intent on tackling might make – so by maintaining ball shielding (which is obstruction) the ball holder is not obstructing – gobbledygook.)

The above clause is currently applied as if it reads only:- A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction.

Prior to 2004 we had:

Obstruction can happen when the ball is within playing distance or could be played if no obstruction had taken place. 
Better there would have been (and would still be)  the ball is within playing distance and could be played at if no obstruction (ball shielding) had taken place

The utterly ridiculous ‘onus’ on the tackler, mentioned above (I understand it was a John Gawley invention), did at one time appear in Rules Interpretations – (a separate section at the back of rule-books)  but it has not done so since the reformatting of the rule-book in 2004 – that was more than sixteen years ago – ample time for umpires, even those who don’t read rule-books, to become aware (or be instructed) that it is no longer there.

If umpires are going to “quote”?? and apply Interpretation last seen in a rule-book in 2003 (and therefore not contained in the current Rules of Hockey), why do they not also apply this Advice to Umpires from the same year, particularly in regards to ‘crabbing’ and stationary shielding of the ball? (Both of which are said to be perfectly legal in the above forum thread – even though they most certainly are not)

Umpires should be aware of players who are in possession of the ball who:-
• back into an opponent
• turn and try to push past an opponent
• shield the ball with body, leg or stick and stand still when under pressure
• drag the ball near their back foot when moving down the side-line or along the back-line.
• shield the ball with the stick to prevent a legitimate tackle.

“Be aware of” it has been pointed out on Internet hockey forums, does not literally mean “regard these actions as offences” or “penalise these actions”, (even though some of them were listed in the Rule Guidance of 2003 as an offence) but why else draw the attention of umpires to them and require that they be watched for?  Common sense needs to be applied.

All the necessary wording for a sensible and fair Obstruction Rule has at one time or another been in the rule-book, but most of it has been systematically removed.

Only the vague “backing into” and “shielding the ball” with the stick survived the 2004 “clarification” (ha ha) and now the majority of umpires, having been deprived of the clear examples of what actions are obstructive, are badly coached and utterly confused about the application of the Obstruction Rule:-  see the forum thread above.

I have written a separate article on the interpretation of “back into”-

The coach seen in the videos has defended this coaching as “following what FIH umpires are doing“, rather than (as it should) following what is given in the wording of the Rule – which FIH Umpires clearly do not follow. Why not?

The answer to that question seems to be “Because nobody else is doing so.” (the peer group) That’s a circular argument, completely  avoiding any responsibility for their own lack of action when obstruction occurs.

Not since the FIH Hockey Rules Board (renamed the FIH Rules Committee in 2011) deleted the ‘gains benefit’ clause’ from Rule 9.11 in January 2007 (it was restored in 2015 as gains an advantage) has there been such a blatant twisting and deforming of a Rule condoned by the FIH Umpiring Committee.  – because a deletion by the FIH Rules Committee was not ‘accepted’ by them – but the ‘deconstruction’ of the criteria for obstruction remains unannounced, it just exisits.

But then I forget the outrageous attempts to have legitimate evasive action as a criterion of a dangerously played ball removed by those without the authority to undertake this action.

First, in 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, where it was asserted that an on-target shot at the goal could not be considered dangerous play ??? and secondly, – since 2019 and currently – the Royal Dutch Hockey Board have issued instructions by letter to  Dutch umpires that legitimate evasive action does not apply to a defender positioned on the goal-line during a penalty corner ??? I await the rebuttal by the FIH of this illegal instruction from the KNHB.

Then, in  the other direction, we had, in 2011, the transfer of the offence of Forcing to “other Rules”, so it disappeared from the rulebook and from the consciousness of umpires who have ceased to apply it. The combination of obstructive play and forcing ball contact onto opponents now ruins the game.  The FIH Rules Comittee and the FIH Umpiring Committee share the blame (praise?) for that development.

It’s not clear nowadays who has Rule authority, even though it should be very clear, following a 2001 FIH Executive Circular, that it is only the FIH Rules Committee who may draft or amend Rule or Rule Interpretation for Executive approval. Umpire Managers and Umpire Coaches and even National Associations may not do so.

An Umpire Briefing video was produced for the 2016 Rio Olympics; in it the Tournament Director Ron Gribble can be heard to announce “… of course defenders positioned on the goal-line, which is properly the domain of the goalkeeper, cannot expect the same degree of protection (from the Rules concerning dangerous play) as other players…” (What he meant was “no protection at all”. I wonder what gave him that idea? Certainly not anything in the Rules of Hockey.