Change, intention and perceptions

There is a persistent perception among umpires that it is part of their task to interpret the wording of the Rules for meaning and intent and then apply the Rules according to their personal interpretations (or the personal interpretations of an Umpire Manager or Umpire Coach given in a tournament briefing). But this perception is contrary to what has been circulated to National Associations from the FIH Executive – so long ago now that the current Executive Members will have forgotten that they (their predecessors) ever did it, even if they were at one time aware of the relevant documents. According to this document even the publication of a written UMB should have been discontinued.

From an FIH Executive Report 2001-2002 .

FIH Highlights Hockey Rules Board

In line with our overall aims, the last two years have,on the one hand, been a period of transition for the Hockey Rules Board (HRB) – while on the other it has been a period of relative consolidation. The transition has focused on incorporation of research and development of the rules within the active remit of the HRB rather than in a separate but linked Rules Advisory Panel, which has now been disbanded.

The Rules Advisory Panel, as might be expected, became a pressure group and advocated many changes that the HRB did not adopt, much to the chagrin of the Advisory Panel. It was not mere coincidence that the disbanding of the Rules Advisory Panel coincided with the announcement that only the FIH HRB had the authority to introduce or amend Rule or Rule interpretation.

At the same time, the rules themselves have been through a period of consolidation rather than significant change. But this does not mean that the HRB has not been active, as the following report will testify.

Rules Changes

One change, which has been significant, at least as measured by the range of views about it, is allowing the edge of the stick to be used to play the ball. This change was introduced as a mandatory experiment in 1999 and was continuously reviewed. Views about it ranged from a welcome for an action which gave players more options and which in particular could be used for exciting shots at goal, to concern that it might lead to danger or could damage sticks. Making a decision involved a delicate and careful balance of these issues,with the HRB deciding that the experiment should run for a third year but that, with effect from 2002, the change would be incorporated as a formal rule.

I had by 2002 been advocating for some years, the abolition of the back-sticks Rule. Usually to a chorus of abuse from hockey forum contributors who made ribald comments comparing my suggestion to ice hockey and saying that stick-work would disappear. I still believe the abolition of back-sticks would have been a wiser move than the introduction of edge hitting (with a back-sticks Rule still in place).

I have posted a picture of an Internet hockey forum post below; in the same topic thread contributors write of edge hitting being snuck in via the back door – an amazing attitude considering it had a three year Mandatory Experiment. What I think they mean is that edge hitting was imposed, despite widespread protest, which was just ignored. But the upending of this 2001 change (below) in 2011, apparently had full approval despite much objection to the deletion of the stand alone Forcing Rule. I certainly objected to it because it was obvious where it would lead (which it has)

Another change, which deserves comment, was the introduction in 2001 of a rule, which explicitly makes manufacturing a foul an offence. This reflects an ongoing concern by the HRB to protect skill and encourage attractive hockey by reducing negative and destructive actions.

The forgiving phrase “finding a foot” is the term currently used for what is now, by television commentators, called a skill, rather than cheating and a foul, which it still is (another forgotten part of Rule history). Forcing is now supposed to be “dealt with under other Rules” but the FIH Rules Committee have overlooked their own announcement ever since it was made, and most umpires are completely unaware of it, which is of course no surprise. It was unreasonable to make an announcement in a 2011 rule-book and then not bother to include it in subsequent rule-books, unless of course there was another formal deletion, but that never happened. There was an initial transfer to “other Rules” in 2011, and nothing has been published by the FIH RC in a rule-book or elsewhere on the matter since then – not even note of what the “other Rules” might be.

The first forgotten Rule promise I came across when researching past Rules, related to the final deletion of Off-side in 1997 (a huge advantage gifted to attackers with no compensation at all offered to the defending team). At the time the HRB wrote that measures would be put in place to constrain the actions of attackers close to the goal (to protect defenders). They then promptly ‘forgot’ about that undertaking. In fact they have since removed the few safeguards that were in place in 1997.

Forbidding players to play or play at an above shoulder height ball when in the opponent’s circle and the introduction of a *Goal Zone could go some way towards fulfilling the now distant obligation of the Rules Committee to honour their word in this area.


The 2008 forum post pictured below refers to the removal of the “old system of Obstruction” which was a very strange phrasing. But then in 2009 a clause extension which considerably strengthened the existing interpretation, by prohibiting a player in possession of the ball moving to position between the ball and an opponent who was attempting to play at it, was introduced. It was the last amendment made to the Obstruction Rule, and it remains part of the current Rule. It made no difference at all to the strange idea that a previous ‘system’ had been removed when it had in fact been reinforced. Umpires behaved and still behave as if the Obstruction Rule had been -as one put it – “deconstructed years ago”.

One of the major problems of personal ‘interpretations’ is that they tend to confirm beliefs that are already held, no matter what the wording of them may be, confirmation bias just ignores the meaning of words or attempts to find a way around them. There is no recognition of cognitive dissidence.

A study of the history of the ball-body contact Rule makes that clear, even when (in 1992) the criteria for an ball body contact offence was deliberate use of the body to stop or deflect the ball and advantage gained (note not or advantage gained), umpires blithely continued to penalise just because a ball body contact was made, exactly as they usually do now even when there is neither clear intent seen (contact is obviously accidental or even deliberately (and unavoidably) forced by an opponent) or any tangible advantaged gained because of such a contact.

The ‘system’ of interpretation of the Obstruction Rule which was put in place in a time beyond living memory, was not altered by the 1993 receiving exception (the so called ‘new interpretation’, which was nothing of the sort, the criteria for obstruction outside of the receiving situation did not change at all) or changed by any of several word alterations (called ‘housekeeping’) prior to 2009 (the last prior to the 2004 Rules of Hockey rewrite, in 2001), or by the 2009 clause expansion. The criteria for obstruction remained exactly as they always were. Shielding the ball to prevent an opponent (who would otherwise have been able to do so) from attempting to play directly the ball, is now and has been for many decades an offence. But several contributors to the forum were content with the declaration that the Obstruction Rule was (in their view correctly) no longer applied – no one disagreed.

I was in 2009 banned from this forum for persistently pointing out the text of the Rules to Keely Dunn and her followers, who did not think Rule wording relevant to umpiring practice. They wrote with scorn of “the black and white of the written Rules” which they thought of as a straight-jacket and of ‘grey areas’ that require personal interpretation (ignoring that most Rule breach is perfectly clear). I agree that the writing of the Rules could be much improved, but no suggested improvement ever came from these people, just their own very varied umpiring ‘practice’, which they regarded as being as good in each case (no matter how different) as an official replacement of Rule. The notion, for example, that a high deflection which was falling onto a contested position or a lob shot at the goal, could NOT be treated as a falling a ball, (i.e. Rule 9.10 did not apply), were Dunn inventions which she insisted were correct interpretation. She used her status as an FIH Umpire and a declaration of universal support and consensus among umpires concerning her views, to bully anyone who dared to disagree with her.

There has been no improvement in application of the Obstruction Rule in the intervening ten or more years, quite the contrary. If some of the body blocking actions that are now routinely carried out by ball holders appeared in the early 1990’s the FIH might have stepped in to prevent the total collapse of the Rule and runaway ‘interpretation’ – but maybe not. The late George Croft the former Hon.Sec. of the HRB wrote, in some desperation I think, in the preface of the 1998 Rules of Hockey “Despite what some people think there still is an Obstruction Rule”. The destruction of this Rule has taken place over a long period with the destroyers getting more brazen year on year.

Here is a typical 2019 example of non-application of Rule and the type of play that it has encouraged. The attacker breaches every one of the obstructive play clauses and the defender does not even realize that the attacker has fouled him. The comments made below the video by an individual umpire give a good insight into the current attitude to Rule interpretation and application among certain umpiring groups.

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