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.

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