Archive for July, 2019

July 16, 2019

Dangerously confused

Rules of Hockey.

9.2 Players on the field must hold their stick and not use it in a dangerous way.
Players must not lift their stick over the heads of other players.

That would be better put Players must not lift any part of their stick across the heads of other players (or even better over and across the heads of other players), because the published clause does not mean that a player may not raise any part of the stick above the height of the head of an opponent – which is what the previous shoulder height limit meant. What is written is not precisely what is meant (or not the way the Rule is commonly applied), which is potentially confusing.

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

A ball is also considered dangerous when it  causes legitimate evasive action by opponents. The penalty is awarded where the action causing the danger took place.

Umpires almost always order the awarded free ball following dangerous play to be taken from the place where danger occurred – that is not what is written in the Rule Explanation. This has relevance to the penalizing of incidents following, in particular, a scoop pass (or a high deflection) and a falling ball. Sometimes danger occurs where its primary cause happened, sometimes it does not and the placement of the free ball should reflect that difference. 

The video contains a number of different kinds of ‘dangerous ball’ incidents. Some are confusing in (sic)their own right, others cause confusion when compared to similar types of incidents that lead to different (penalty?) outcomes or no penalty at all.

The first incident occurs so quickly that I use only slow-mo of the action and a still. A player in possession of the ball raises the ball at an opponent within 5m and forces him to self defence, Height is not a consideration in these circumstances (raised and within 5m is the Rule criteria) but for completeness, I mention that the ball was raised to above knee height (there is a possibility that there are some participants that believe the ball must be raised to knee height or above for there to be a dangerous play offence – even though this has never been the case, it is a meme)

The ball rebounded a considerable distance from the stick of the defending BEL player and he had to sprint to catch it before it went out of play or was collected by a NED player.

The umpire did not intervene, there was no penalty awarded for this foul, which was the result of deliberately raising the ball with a powerful flick that directed the ball straight at an opponent (the intention of the player who propelled the ball was unknowable – what he did, the action he took, was clear.) The fact that an opponent successfully defends a dangerously played  ball (as defined in the Explanation of Rule 9.9) does not make that raised ball a safe one, there has still been an offence.

The second incident shown is of an obviously accidental deflection off the stick of a defender who was trying to intercept/stop the ball. The ball loops gently into the thigh of a NED player (but again, despite what Charlesworth, said in commentary, height was irrelevant) who I think could have avoided it easily if he had wanted to. A penalty corner was recommended following video referral by the NED team. There was clearly no intent by the defender to raise the ball at the NED player and it is difficult to see how the NED player was disadvantaged by this unintentional breach of the  Explanation given with 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.

Note a flick or a scoop is an intentional stroke used to raise the ball and an accidental deflection may not have been intended to be included as a criterion for offence. But again, a hit stroke is not mentioned – even though Rule 9.9. is about intentionally raised hits – and a raised hit is likely to be at least as dangerous to others as a flick or scoop may be. So we have a dilemma –  between intent of action and type of stroke – why were flicks and scoops mentioned in the Explanation but hits and intentional deflections omitted? The original Rule, by not mentioning a stroke at all, included all means of intentionally raising the ball towards an opponent. But then the original Rule did not include a distance limit either – it was a safer Rule – a ball could be considered to have endangered an opponent from any distance where there was legitimate evasive action. The original Rule with the addition of distance specific height limits would be a much better current Rule.

There is a huge difference between the outcome of this incident (the accidental deflection) and the outcome of the previous incident (deliberately raising the ball towards an opponent with a powerful flick) but I am not suggesting either decision was wrong – just incomprehensible, if actual endangerment and fairness are criteria for the award of a penalty for dangerous play.

The third incident is a high velocity raised edge hit into the circle. I have no doubt at all that this hit was raised intentionally. The BEL player attempting to tackle made a show of avoiding being hit, but I don’t think there a was any possibility of that happening. Nonetheless the raised hit was a foul which disadvantaged the BEL team.

9.9 Players must not intentionally raise the ball from a hit except
for a shot at goal.

A raised hit must be judged explicitly on whether or not it is raised intentionally.       

Although the previous incident was an accidental deflection rather than a miss-hit I think the following has relevance.:-

It is not an offence to raise the ball unintentionally from a hit, including a free hit, anywhere on the field unless it is dangerous.

We can go around in circles on this. Was the softly deflected ball in the previous incident likely to cause any hurt or injury to the NED player ? If not, then any evasive action should not be described as legitimate. ButA ball is dangerous when it causes legitimate evasive action”. What does “causes” mean? What does legitimate mean? (Genuine? Legal? Necessary?) What if evasive action is not taken when the player towards whom the ball is travelling is 1) aware of its path and 2) the ball is not moving fast enough to cause hurt or injury and 3) evasive action could very easily have been taken? Does that not fit with an intention to use the body to stop the ball?

The raised edge hit, judged explicitly on the intent to raise it, was obviously an offence and should have been penalised. It was far more dangerous than the gentle accidental deflection for which a penalty corner was awarded. But umpires have lots of problems with intention because it does not have physical form and it cannot be measured i.e. it is not an objective criterion.

I have problems with edge-hitting; this (picture) is apparently a legitimate edge-hit:-

That looks like back-sticks to me and I think that if edge-hitting is to be permitted – and it obviously is – then the back-sticks Rule ought to be abolished. Then players could hit the ball ‘back-hand’ with a more upright stance and there would be less likelihood of the ball being raised accidentally or raised more than is intended.

The next incident the raise looping deflection into the circle looks, at live speed, to be a ball squeezed up between two sticks coming together on either side of it i.e. a no fault or at least, a no determinable fault, incident. I do not believe that at live speed anyone could have seen exactly what happened. I cannot understand the umpire (who possibly did not see the contact at all) immediately awarding a penalty corner.

Of course the BEL team disputed the award, but the video umpire had no chance of sorting out who was responsible and had no choice but to say “I see no reason to change your decision” If the umpire had initially ordered a free to BEL and the NED team had referred, he would have had to have said the same thing.

In saner times, such deflections resulted in the award of a bully five yards from the circle. Even high deflections up off the protective equipment of a goalkeeper resulted in the award of a bully. For fairness as well as safety these sorts of incidents still should result in the award of a bully restart on the hash circle.

The most dangerous aspect of this incident was ignored. That was the actions of the two players who rushed in to get beneath the falling ball and compete for it by taking a swing at it. The NED player ‘won’ that contest but thankfully he shot wide of the goal (thankfully because a penalty corner had already been awarded) Both players could reasonably have been awarded a yellow card, not least because they continued playing after the whistle had been blown, but also for dangerous play.

The final incident is an ‘air shot’ and I am really confused about it, not least because of this incident:-

Olympic Final Rossario. At the time it happened I was critical that the obstruction was not penalised, but there was also, obviously, dangerous use of the stick by the player in possession of the ball – that too was ignored. The match was restarted with a side-line ball to the NED team???. The injured ARG player had to retire for treatment and took no further part in the match.

Apparently it is not dangerous play to hit a player in the face with a high follow through after hitting the ball (the defender shouldn’t get in the way ???), but it is dangerous play to miss the ball when attempting to hit it, even when no one is endangered by the stick swing. Oh players ducked, but they were not at risk of being hit with the stick on that swing path: the evasion was not legitimate. The striker had firm control of the stick-swing path, it was his timing that was off.

The Rules about a dangerously played ball ought to be among the clearest and fairest in the rule-book, in line with the supposed emphasis on safety. In fact they are a confusing mess, heavily reliant on ‘legitimate evasive action’ which has no clear meaning, and missing objective criteria on height limits and ball velocity.

There isn’t a Rule about dangerous use of the stick which goes much beyond “Don’t use the stick in a dangerous way.” What does that mean? Here is an old video clip of an example of play which I see as obstruction and dangerous use of the stick (a view I have been roundly ridiculed for)

A tackler approaches from front left of the player in possession of the ball (PIP). The PIP turns about the ball to shield it from the approaching tackler, when the tackler is within playing reach of the ball, and then hits at the ball. The stick back-swing of the PIP catches the defender on the head as he attempts to adjust position to play at the ball. The tackler could not reasonably have attempted to go around the other side of the PIP (and into the follow through of the stick after the ball was struck).

The umpire penalised the tackler.

The PIP was obviously aware of the approaching defender and that he was very close when he turned to shield the ball from him (that’s obstruction).

I see the PIP’s use of the stick in the circumstances as dangerous play and I believe we need a Rule which prohibits the raising of any part of the stick to above shoulder height when there is an opponent within playing reach of the ball or within the range of the potential stick-swing of a PIP who is hitting at the ball.

The alternative in these circumstances i.e. when a PIP turns to shield the ball from an approaching opponent, is to say that the opponent may not attempt to play at the ball when it is shielded from him because he is not in a position to play at it. (Under current Rule if no attempt is made to play at the ball there can be no obstruction. An obstruction offence must be forced by means of a tackle attempt). We then arrive at a situation where a ball shielding player cannot be guilty of an obstruction offence because he cannot be tackled – because he is shielding the ball from (obstructing) the player intent on tackling – which is pretty much, looking at current ‘practice’, where we already are.

The combination of ball shielding (obstruction) and reverse edge hitting are a frequent cause of dangerous play and of injury.

July 11, 2019

Forced onto

Rules of Hockey

The deconstruction of the Ball-Body Contact Rule and the Forcing Rule.

Players shall not hit 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 or play the ball intentionally into an opponent’s foot, leg or body.

A player shall not stop or deflect the ball on the ground or in the air with
any part of the body TO HIS OR HIS TEAM’S ADVANTAGE.

There is no suggestion in the above Rules (which were in place for decades prior to 1995) that a player who has had the ball intentionally played into their foot, leg or body has committed an offence – on the contrary, an offence was declared to be committed by the player who intentionally played the ball into an opponent.

After 1995 there was some ambivalence about whether or not a player hit with the ball on the foot (so not with a raised ball) had committed an offence, it seems to be suggested (without explanation) that there is an offence but that offence should not be penalised

Post 1995.
Players shall not raise the ball intentionally at another player.

Post 1998 

Players shall not raise the ball at another player.

(A Rule that was ignored for years after the introduction of the drag-flick as a first shot during a penalty corner. It was deleted as a Rule in 2004 – in line with the emphasis on safety??? – and with the addition of a 5m limit, illogically became part of the Explanation of Rule 9.9, which concerns the intentionally raised hit, when the ball is raised with a flick or scoop)

Umpires should be clear in their minds about the ball hitting the
foot, which may not be an offence, and the foot kicking the ball,
which may be an offence.
It is not intended that undue benefit be gained from such contact.

The previous SHOUTING (use of upper case) that (unintentional) ball body contact should not be penalised unless an advantage was gained by the team of the player hit (as is common now, umpires often penalised contact when there was no reason to do so) softened considerably to “It is not intended that undue benefit be gained from such contact”

Ball body contact.

Players shall not intentionally stop, kick, propel, pick up, throw or carry the ball with any part of their bodies.

It is not an offence if the ball hits the foot or body of a player unless that player:
• has moved into the path of the ball,
(intentionally and without an attempt to use the stick to play the ball ?) or
• made no effort to avoid being hit,

(having clear intention of being hit?)  or
• was positioned with the clear intention of stopping the ball.
(presumably with the body. How positioning with intention to stop the ball with the body could be determined is a mystery.)

Players should not be penalised when the ball is played at them from a short distance.
(How short a distance?)

The comments required in parentheses give an indication of how poorly written these clauses were.

After 2004 the word “intentionally” disappeared from the Ball Body Contact Rule Proper (Rule 9.11) and ‘benefit’ becomes prominent in the Explanation clause. The only other clause in the Rule is a clarification on the ball hitting the hand holding the stick.

Post 2004

9.9 Field players must not stop, kick, propel, pick up, throw or carry the ball with any part of their body.

It is not an offence if the ball hits the foot, hand or body of a field player, unless that player or their team benefits from this.

No offence is committed if the ball hits the hand holding the stick but would otherwise have hit the stick.

After 2004 there is a clear change of attitude – and a contradiction. A player hit with the ball because of forcing has now offended, all-be-it unintentionally. Unintentional ball-body contact is now also an offence, a forcing offence merely takes precedence over the contact offence – but the forcing must be clear and intentional – i.e. clearly intentional – a burden umpires proved unable to bear, rarely if ever seeing intent to force contact. This “difficulty” was a reason given for eventually deleting the Forcing Rule. The following Rule was deleted in 2011. The way was then open for players to ‘win’ a penalty with an action that was previously an offence even though the announcement of the deletion stated that any forcing action could be penalised under other Rules. (So why the deletion?)

9.13 Players must not force an opponent into offending unintentionally.

Playing the ball clearly and intentionally into any part of an opponent’s body may be penalised as an attempt to manufacture an offence. Forcing an opponent to obstruct (often emphasised by running into an opponent or by waving the stick) must also be penalised.

The debacle that followed the deletion of ‘Gains Benefit’ and the introduction of ‘Voluntarily’ in place of ‘Intentionally’ in 2007 is the subject of another fun article. Gains an advantage was restored to the rule-book in 2016 (effective by order of the FIH Executive May 2015)

Preface of Rules of Hockey 2011

The changes in this edition of the Rules essentially seek to simplify the game without altering its fundamental characteristics.

The Rule which used to say that “players must not force an opponent into offending unintentionally” is deleted because any action of this sort can be dealt with under other Rules.

It is difficult to see how a player the ball has been forced into can be said to have offended at all. A forced contact cannot be a voluntary or intentional contact and any advantage gained by the team of the player hit is a result of the player who propelled the ball disadvantaging him or her self. It cannot in these circumstances be fair or proper ever to penalise the player hit with the ball.

The statement that forcing actions can be dealt with under other Rules has not (as it should have) appeared in any rule-book published after the 2011-13 version, so many umpires are now unaware that the forcing ball-body contact ever was an offence (and any such forcing action still is an offence). The “other Rules” under which any forcing action may be penalised have never been specified (but Rule 9.8 and Rule 9.9 are obvious candidates).

None of the many changes (big and small and to and fro) made to the Ball-Body Contact Rule in the past thirty years have made the slightest difference to the way in which umpires have reacted when there has been a ball body contact in contested play. Penalising the player hit with the ball has become ‘automatic’ i.e. done without any consideration of the criteria for offence.

An example of forcing

The NED attacker clearly plays the ball with considerable velocity towards the left foot of the AUS defender in front of him, the AUS defender is backed up by two other AUS defenders so the NED attacker is clearly not attempting a pass with any expectation that the ball will reach another NED player. Such expectation would be unreasonable.

The AUS player defends his foot with his stick but the frame rate of YouTube videos is such that it is impossible to determine if he succeeded or if there was a ball foot contact. If there was contact it was obviously unintentional and gained no advantage for the AUS team. The ball deflects from the first AUS contact and rises into a second AUS defender, again it is not possible to ascertain from frame by frame examination of the video if there was any ball body contact. If there was it was unintentional and did not gain advantage for the AUS team – the ball runs free to the top of the circle and could have been collected by a NED player positioned there.

The possibility of dangerous play – raising the ball towards another player – by the first AUS defender can be discounted, as a recent change to the dangerously played ball Rule makes clear that a player endangering one of his own team in this way should not be penalised as an offence, because that action does not disadvantage opponents (I don’t think the change to be a wise one because attackers often endanger their own team-mates with wild shots at the goal and a injury is an injury no matter who causes it. An emphasis on safety dictates player safety first).

There was no reason for the umpire to award a penalty corner and good reason for him to penalise the NED player for playing the ball at an opponent from close range.
I cannot remember the last time I saw a player penalised for a forcing offence, this offence was not being penalised even long before it was deleted as a separate stand alone offence.

Forcing which is also clearly a breach of part of the Explanation of Rule 9.9 – raising the ball into an opponent within 5m.The ARG player could have played on with advantage but made no attempt at all to do so. Despite these clear reasons not to penalise the player hit with the ball the umpire did so, awarding a penalty corner.


July 9, 2019

The destruction of the Obstruction Rule.

Rules of Hockey.

The explanation of application of the current Obstruction Rule states:-

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

I’ll change the order in which the three clauses are presented, this is the third in the rule-book:-

2) 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).

The part in parenthesis should (in my opinion) read  this may also be third party or shadow obstruction because such actions may also be ball shielding by a player in possession of the ball (blocking) or carried out as an obstructive tackle coming from behind the tackled player and imposing the body between that player and the ball.

The clause below was the last amended.

3) 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 with the ball here is assumed to refer not to a player who is in the act of receiving the ball, but to one who has received the ball and has it under control.

When the exception to the Obstruction Rule, which permitted a closely marked player to receive the ball without immediately being in breach of the Obstruction Rule (that is without having first to create space to receive the ball without obstructing an opponent – usually by means of a lead run), was first introduced, instruction was given about what the receiving player had to do once the ball was in control, given that in these circumstances the receiving player, then in controlled possession of the ball, had an opponent positioned directly or almost directly behind (sic) them, i.e. within playing reach of the ball in what would previously have been considered an obstructed position.

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

That instruction was fairly loose because it gave no indication of the distance the ball holder (having received the ball) must move away or the speed of such movement. But common practice at the time was that the ball needed to be moved immediately and rapidly beyond the playing reach of any marking defender or the ball had to be immediately passed away beyond playing reach. Critical was “must move away” the ball holder having received the ball was not allowed to dwell on it in a stationary position or indeed to dribble it away at, for example, walking speed – because that would not reasonably be considered to take the ball beyond the reach of any opponent intent on making a tackle for the ball.

The above fairly sensible instruction given in the Rules Interpretations did not last long. Two years later we were presented, without explanation for the change, with:-

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

That is neither a directive or a prohibitive statement, it gives no instruction about moving the ball away or moving away with the ball, except not to move bodily into a tackler. It does not oblige the ball holder to move at all. From this moment on the Obstruction Rule began to fall apart as multiple personal ‘interpretations’ of the meaning of the above clause were applied. It is from this body of ‘interpretation’ that the idea that a stationary player could not obstruct arose – and persisted – despite later instruction to umpires to watch for players who “stand still and shield the ball when under pressure

Then we had A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent in the Rule Explanation – is permitted to move means exactly the same as may move (but “off” does not mean exactly the same as “away” – it is, if anything weaker) why the change to the wording was made is unclear, again no explanation was offered.

But, finally, in 2009, we had the addition of an extension to that clause:-

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. Which is a current Rule Explanation of Application clause.

That means that a player who has received and controlled the ball may not then move into a position between an opponent and the ball, that is with the ball within the playing reach of an opponent who is attempting to play at it (such moving would naturally include backing towards and moving the ball into the playing reach of an opponent while shielding it, because such moving is not excluded)- and of course a ball holder may not remain stationary in a blocking position with the ball within the playing reach of an opponent who is attempting to play at it – see the clause numbered 2) above. The 2009 amendment seems however to have come too late, by the time it was enacted umpires had become accustomed to allowing receiving players to do as they liked once the ball was in control – and they continued doing what had become an easy habit – all the ‘onus’ (to get unobstructed) had long been transferred to the tackling player, the 2009 amendment was largely ignored and remains so.

But nonetheless the Rule as written means that static blocking or a very small movement to shield the ball from an opponent can be an obstructive offence.

Here is a subtle example of obstructive play from the 2018 World Cup- Aus v Ned . There is very little movement by the ball holder but he commits three offences.

The Aus player receives the ball with his stick near horizontal to make a strong secure stop.

He then moves his left leg forward and then plants his right foot to his right making contact with and blocking off the stick of the Ned defender who is trying to tackle – this is an offence.

He moves across until he has completely blocked off the Ned defender with his body. This is moving into a position between the tackler and the ball and is his second offence (the first being stick interference). He makes no attempt at all to move off or move away from the defender with the ball once it is in his control. His obvious first legitimate direction of movement with the ball would have been to his left, as the defender was to his right rear, however he chose not to try and outrun the defender but to try immediately to make space for a shot.

The Aus player now uses a reverse stroke to feint to his right with the ball.

Then moves to his left as he leans back bodily into the tackler (an offence) and pivots off his right foot. In stepping back he traps the stick of the defender between his legs – because the defender had reached for the ball between the legs of the Aus player who was blocking his path to the ball (there is no ‘onus’ on a tackler to position to tackle or to go around a ball shielding opponent – that ‘interpretation’ was deleted post 2003) The tackler here had no opportunity anyway to move around the ball holder’s left side (and to do so would have opened the way for a free reverse edge shot) and if he had attempted to move around the ball-holders right side he would have given him a free forehand shot at the goal – he had in the circumstances to stay behind the ball holder and attempt to play at the ball from that position.

Having tangled himself with the defender’s stick the Aus player became impeded with it and made an off-target shot that went off the end of the pitch. There was therefore no need to penalise his obstructions or the physical contact as these offences did not ultimately disadvantage the Dutch team, but I doubt the umpire would have penalised the attacker anyway (if he had achieved an on-target shot). Very few umpires appear to understand the words

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.

As meaning:-  A player with the ball is not permitted to move bodily into an opponent or into a  [blocking/shielding] position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it – which the wording clearly does mean.

Once a receiving player has control of the ball he or she then becomes ‘a player with the ball’ and there is no further exception to the Obstruction Rule; any further ball shielding that prevents an opponent playing at the ball, when that opponent is demonstrating an intent (attempting) to play at the ball and would otherwise have been able to do so, is an obstruction offence.

I was surprised that the umpire did not award a penalty corner against the Dutch team for a contact tackle by the defender, even if that would have been incorrect, as Aus player’s entanglement with the defender’s stick was caused by his own turning action. Some umpires seem to regard any sort of tackle attempt as an offence. (See video below – which is another example, far more blatant, of obstruction by a player in possession of the ball, which was not penalised – but the the shadowing defender was penalised, which was absurd.)

Here we go again. Big butt skills.