Archive for February, 2020

February 27, 2020

World Hockey misses the point.

England Hockey also misses the point.

Apparently common sense has to be the result of professionally collected data about injuries, and comment about potential danger has to be from “credible” sources (see article) to be accepted. Is there someone spreading false reports of injuries sustained during hockey matches? I very much doubt it, if anything injuries are generally under reported.

I have been suggesting for years a height limit on any ball propelled towards another player from beyond 5m, (there being Rule in place to cover the ball raised towards an opponent within 5m – even if that is poorly applied at present) as a means of determining that a ball is dangerously played.

Incidents of dangerous play cannot be determined simply by counting the number of reported injuries that result from it, because legitimate evasive action is already supposed to define a dangerously played ball (but in practice doesn’t). If dangerous play that does not result in injury ‘does not count’ as dangerous, then we are miscounting and underestimating the problem.

What actually happens is quite different.  If an ‘on target’ high shot at the goal, which is also made towards a defender, is successfully evaded, a goal award is the usual outcome. If a player attempting to evade such a ball is hit with it then a penalty stroke award is considered normal. In other words attackers are not penalised for playing the ball in a dangerous way at an opponent but rewarded for doing so and therefore encouraged to do so.

There is no deterrent whatsoever against raising the ball at throat or head height towards a defender when shooting at the goal from beyond 5m. It does not matter which stroke is used, be it a drag-flick or an edge-hit.

It follows that defenders are being forced to defend against shots in competitive matches that they would always evade in practice situations (because of the high risk of injury). The choice, if it can be called that, is to risk injury by attempting to stop a high ball propelled at the throat or head or to ‘give away’ a goal. Players (shortsightedly) often ‘sacrifice’ themselves for the team, and the team (and the club) are then without their services while they recover from injury (often for many weeks).

A sternum level high limit (120cms or 4′) would allow defenders to evade the very dangerously played high ball without giving away a goal and would also greatly reduce the risk of severe (life threatening) injury which is the potential result of permitting above sternum height shots to be made towards opposing defenders. Crucially attackers would then stop making such shots, just as they stopped ‘roofing’ the first hit shot made during a penalty corner after the introduction of the backboard height limit on such shots.

There is no need to height limit any shot that is not made towards (at) another player, so shots made at above head height or wide of opponents, would not be effected by the proposed height limit, just as balls raised above knee height with a flick within 5m of outrunning opponents during a penalty corner are not considered dangerously played if they are not directed towards an outrunning opponent

A120cm height limit is easy and cheap to mark on a goal by stretching an elasticated tape from one post to another around the back of the goal. This is also easy to adjust for women’s hockey or for juniors where lower heights (110cms and 100cms respectively) may be considered more suitable.

It is of course necessary to track injuries and record how they are caused, but injuries are only a very small (but visible and stressful) part of the complete “dangerously played ball” scenario.

Injuries arise because the dangerously played ball is not well Ruled for and the Rules we have are not well applied. I have a video clip of a player, while trying to stop the ball with his stick, being hit on the collar bone with drag-flick shots and being penalised with a penalty stroke, and another of a shot, taken from within 5m, deflecting into the goal off a defenders collar bone into the goal, while he was trying to evade the ball, and a goal being awarded – this should not be happening.

The so called ‘gladiator effect’ is not more likely to encourage defenders in competitive matches to try stop the ball with the stick rather than duck, they are already doing that. It is in my view more likely to encourage attackers to believe that they need not concern themselves with injury to ‘protected’ opponents, and worse, for umpires to accept that view.

We already have attackers shooting at the goal when there are defenders positioned between them and the goal as if defenders so positioned in John Gawley’s words (2001 Umpire Coaching document entitled The Lifted Ball) aggregated to themselves to position of goalkeeper without the privileges (legal use of body) afforded to goalkeepers. He suggested that such defenders could be shot at as if they were fully protected goalkeepers (an aberration in an otherwise fairly sensible set of recommendations concerning the lifted ball). That attitude can never be accepted – not if incidents of injury are a concern and we seek to reduce or even eliminate them.

February 23, 2020

Silly Rule and confusing yellow card.

Correction edit added

The draconian enforcement of one of the silliest conventions in the Rule book. Excellent play by the defender penalised as if a crime. Fortunately it occurred in a match in which the Netherlands team were missing on most cylinders when in front of the goal, and they missed yet again from the penalty corner.- a good save by the ARG keeper.

I have noticed that of late umpires have been more inclined to award a penalty corner following a tackle from which a defender sends the ball – often apparently inadvertently – out of play over the base-line. In this same match this umpire’s colleague awarded a penalty corner following such a tackle. His characterization, to the player involved, of the tackle stroke used, as a long sweep at the ball, was wildly inaccurate. I wonder have Umpire Managers told umpires to be more strict about applying this very silly and unnecessary Rule.

Making defending as difficult as possible is becoming ridiculous. Defenders near their base-lines already have to contend with players shunting into them while shielding the ball and opponents trying to play the ball into their feet. They are likely when shunted into, to be penalised for a contact tackle and when the ball is forced into their feet, in both instances with a penalty corner.

The defender is more and more restricted while attackers seems to have no restrictions at all imposed. Even raising the ball into a defender is viewed as the defender’s fault – he shouldn’t be there. The most difficult and necessary part of the game is being made near impossible, that is not going to improve the skill levels of attackers or make the game more interesting for spectators.


I got this completely wrong, the card was not for the knock off the base-line but it would seem (I am not certain) for a much earlier contact tackle attempt near the half-way line by the ARG No.5. (see link below) But there was no advantage signal given and the umpire did not communicate clearly why he had stopped the game or quickly explain why he had issued the card. He actually told the ARG captain to “Go away” when asked by him why the penalty corner was awarded. Allowing the advantage was correct but other umpiring actions were done out of proper sequence and communication was very poor.

My comment concerning the justness of a penalty corner award for a defender (intentionally ?? ) playing the ball off the pitch during a tackle are remain as stated. In my view this non-offence should be dealt with by awarding a restart for the attackers on the 23m line.

February 5, 2020

A silk purse from a sow’s ear.

Rules of Hockey

9.12 Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play the ball.

It is necessary when trying to communicate the meaning of statements made in Rules clauses or Explanation clauses not to assume any prior knowledge of the game by the intended listener/reader and an absence of deductive reasoning. No conditions or circumstances not specifically mentioned in any Rule statement can to be assumed. Everything the Rule maker needs the participants to know to comply with a Rule must be fully explained. It is also almost a certainty that people who have not ever read a rule book will have very fixed ideas about what the Rules state and what they do not, and it will be extraordinarily difficult to get them to change their opinions because they will have formed their opinions by listening to and/or watching people they respect and trust.

When the Obstruction Rule is read together with the provided Explanation of Application of Rule it quickly becomes apparent that the normal principles of comprehensive explanation are not adhered to. Much is left unexplained and much is assumed to be common knowledge. The current Rules and Explanations are a sow’s ear with nearly everyone of them being ‘interpreted’ into a multitude of personal ‘silk purses’, of value only to their inventors.

Explanation of Application Rule 9.12.
Players obstruct if they:-

back into an opponent.

It is possibly acceptable for a Rule (the words of the Rule Proper) to be unclear when considered in isolation, the terms used may not have been previously explained, but the Rule should become very clear when the Explanation of Application clauses are read because all such clauses should be written in an unambiguous way. For example, the word ‘obstruct’ in the Rule Proper is undefined, but a reading of the Explanation clauses should make it very clear what actions ‘to obstruct’ include  – but this is not clear.

I’ll demonstrate with what may seem to be the reasonably clear Explanation clause above:

Players obstruct if they back into an opponent.

which is in fact unclear and applied in a wide variety of ways or not applied at all. Is the opponent assumed to be in possession of the ball at the time and shielding it from an opponent while backing into that opponent? Reasonable assumptions perhaps, but possession of the ball is there only an assumption, it is not specified in the clause. The clause could refer only to off the ball play such as ‘third party’ obstruction.

What does ‘back in’ mean? The American umpire coach Cris Maloney asserts that it means to back into physical contact with an opponent, and that ‘backing in’ that is only backing towards an opponent is not an offence, no matter how close the players get, unless physical contact is made. To support this approach he points out, in analogy, that a car that backs into another car hits that car – otherwise it has not backed into that car.

I disagree with his view of backing in and take the view that a player who moves backwards taking the ball into the playing reach of an opposing player, while at the same time shielding the ball from that player (the tackler) to prevent a tackle attempt, obstructs that opponent immediately he or she brings the ball within the playing reach of the tackler. Why?  Because players may be obstructed once they are within playing reach of the ball when they are attempting to carry out a tackle. I answer the analogy of the backing car by pointing out that a car that backs into a garage or into a parking bay is not backed up until it hits something (a back wall or a fence) and is in the garage or in the parking bay in the same way a backing player (or a player leading the ball while shunting sideways towards an opponent) is within the playing reach of an opponent (often causing the opponent to back off to avoid physical contact, in which case a tackle attempt may become an impossibility).

Unfortunately the phrase “attempting to play the ball” which comprises much of the Rule Proper, is nowhere explained and it is necessary to construct circumstances in which a tackle attempt may be made, and also where one cannot be made and to know the reasons why in each case.This is not as easy as it might appear, but it is easier to describe situations in which a tackle attempt cannot be made (or is prevented) than it is to describe a legitimate tackle attempt. If you don’t believe that try it and see if you can come up with a ‘watertight’ definition that will fit all circumstances.

The word legitimate has several meanings and is used in a different ways in different Rules E.g. ‘legitimate evasive action’ and ‘legitimate tackle’ do not use the word ‘legitimate’ in the same way. A legitimate tackle is a tackle made in a legal way i.e without a foul (usually avoiding making physical contact with stick or body) But how? Legitimate evasive action is evasion that is necessary to avoid injury and is genuine for that reason. Evasive action cannot reasonably be considered to be illegal even when it is unnecessary or even an attempt to con an umpire.

It is often possible to look at prior wording to Rule or Explanation or to amendments added to Rule or Explanations at a later date (with obstruction the amendments were made in 1993, 1995, 2001, 2004 and 2009, with 1995 and 2004 being years in which major rule-book rewrites were undertaken) to get a better sense of what the HRB /FIH RC intended. Fortunately in the case of this particular clause there is a 2009 amendment that provides clarity. I will come back to that because it also includes part of the next “a player obstructs” statement.

– Players obstruct if they shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body.

A shield and shielding is often thought of something to protect the body from another object moving towards it. An umbrella for example is generally used to shield a person from rain. The other form of shielding is the use of the body itself to protect something or some one from attack or to prevent loss of possession of the thing shielded. It is more generally, but not exclusively, used in this latter sense in the Obstruction Rule and it is considered an illegal action if it prevents an opponent, who would otherwise be able to play immediately and directly at the ball, from doing so.

In 2002 the rule-book (and the UMB) contained advice to umpires to “watch for players who stand still and shield the ball when under pressure” Again a lot of assumptions, but that advice clearly informed umpires that a stationary player who was shielding the ball to prevent a tackle attempt by an opponent, was as guilty of obstruction as one who moved to impose his or her body between an opponent and the ball (I’ll come back to deletions).

But what is a legitimate tackle? Here legitimate appears to mean ‘legal’ or ‘Rule compliant’ i.e. not illegal. An illegal tackle, according to 9.13. is one that is made from a position where physical contact is (inevitable/unavoidable). Sliding tackles are often like this. There is of course a world of difference between a front-on or side-on sliding tackle at an open ball and a tackle attempt from the sort of positions that a ball holder puts a tackler in when moving to shield the ball from the tackler. That is moving his or her body (or the ball) to maintain positions where the ball is body shielded from the player intent on tackling for it, these latter actions are obstructive and an offence.

Here is the 2009 improved version of ‘Players obstruct  if they back into opponents combined with players obstruct if they move to shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body.

A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent. (contact offence).
or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it. (ball shielding).

If the part about what a player with the ball is allowed to do is omitted (because it is unnecessary) we get, with a slight change of syntax, a clearer picture of what is prohibited.

A player with the ball is not permitted to move 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.

The second  part of that clause (after the first use of the word opponent) is the 2009 amendment, which has been practically ignored since it was published.

It could be improved “A player with the ball is not permitted to move into bodily contact with an opponent…. etc”. If body to body contact is prohibited, which is the case, that should be clearly stated even if it is duplication of the physical contact Rule.

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). Improved by replacing “is” with “may also be”. 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 may also be third party or shadow obstruction

When the wording of Rules gives an umpires ‘ sow’s ear’s to work with no amount of ‘interpretation’ improves matters, personal ‘interpretations’ generally make things far worse (because they vary between umpires) and they are not permitted anyway. The proper course of action is to lobby the FIH RC for amendment to the wording. An effective lobby group has to be in agreement about what changes it wants of course, and there’s the rub. 

The 2009 amendment is an improvement on what was there previously (after 2004) except that the advice on the situation of the stationary player under pressure was ‘lost’ in the 2004 rewrite and there is still no explanation of what action constitutes a tackle attempt (is it not demonstration by a tackler that there is intent to make a tackle?), and no mention, outside the advice in the UMB, of the illegal prevention of a tackle attempt  (which is basically what an obstruction offence by a player in possession of the ball is). So we get situations such as those in the shootout in the video below, where an attacker moves to position between a close opponent and the ball with impunity (apparently with immunity from the Obstruction Rule) preventing that player (the goalkeeper) from playing at the ball when he would otherwise have been able to do so – the ball being within his reach. The goalkeeper cannot “go around” the ball-holder (previous daft and unfair advice circa 1993, which was deleted in 2004) as that would just present an empty goal to a ball holder who would turn away to the other side of any attempt to go around him (an obvious flaw in the instruction that was not obvious to the person who drafted it  – and from there is was apparently just ‘rubber stamped’ without serious consideration being given to the effect it could have on the playing of the game). The deletion of this ‘go around demand’  was made with good reason but participants are still babbling on about an ‘onus’ on a tackler to go around an opponent in possession of the ball (to get unobstructed) who declare, quite absurdly, that tacklers are not obstructed unless they take this action because they are not in a position to tackle for the ball  (because they are obstructed). The same people don’t consider that there is an onus on a player in possession of the ball not to obstruct opponents who are trying to play at it, but of course there is, otherwise there would be no Obstruction Rule. Oddly the ‘onus’ crowd don’t point to any of the other conditions that disappeared in 2004, because I assume, most of them were directed at the player in possession of the ball and not the opposing tackler. Not all of them disappeared, but it is difficult to explain why those that did were deleted.The third and fourth clause listed below are now common in play and many participants insist they are not obstructive actions. When- as they will  – they point out these clauses are deleted I can reply “So is the onus on a tackler to go around an opponent when obstructed, to reposition to make a tackle, and obstruction is still the prevention of a tackle attempt by means of ball shielding”

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; (barging)
• 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

As difficult as the Obstruction Rule makes it to play the game (demanding movement skills) or worse, to learn to play it – and as unpopular as it may be with players in possession of the ball – without an Obstruction Rule, a non-contact game which hockey is, (there’s a surprise for some) becomes a farce. Which is why, when combined with the failure to penalise forcing offences, hockey has become a farce.

February 1, 2020

Dangerous Umpire Briefing

My clip (the second one below)  is a small part of the FIH video issued in 2017 after the Rio Olympics.

I watched the FIH Umpire Briefing video, featuring the Umpire Managers, prior to the 2016 Olympics (much of which is repeated in the 2017 version)

and was not surprised that the umpiring in Rio, taken as a whole, was poorer than any I had seen in any FIH Tournament prior to that date. What is hoped for and intended does not automatically become common practice.

In this short clip (below) the men’s umpire manager Craig Gribble, begins by pointing out that a shot on goal that endangers players from both sides is dangerous play (that has now been changed, a same team player cannot now be endangered, a Rule amendment which Sam Ward might have a few words to say about) and additional video adds that a shot wide of the goal that endangers defenders is also dangerous play – so far so good.

He then goes on to say “Of course a defender choosing to stand on the line and occupying an area which is in fact properly the goalie’s domain could not expect the same degree of protection“” That is a nonsense which he then links with a true statement to the effect that if a defender on the line is struck with the ball (and prevents a goal) then a penalty stroke COULD be the correct decision (unfair advantage gained).

Why “Of course” No explanation is offered. Why would a defender in any position, including on the goal-line, not be as protected by Rule as any other player defending anywhere on the pitch would be? I suggest he offered no explanation because he could not do so. His statement is pure invention which unfortunately has become a meme of umpiring – I wonder how that happened?

This kind of “Of course” thinking is so ‘fuzzy’ and vague, and contrary to the supposed emphasis on player safety that is obvious that this high level umpiring official does not understand what is meant by the term “a dangerously played ball”. A dangerously played ball is not something that is created by the player endangered by it, but a dangerous action an endangered player responds to.

Yes a defender struck with the ball who prevents a goal being scored can be penalised with a penalty stroke, provided the shot is not made in a dangerous way i.e. in a way that endangers any defender or causes him or her to take or try to take, legitimate evasive action (evasion to avoid injury) – as demonstrated in the initial part of the clip.

There is no Rule declaring the goal-line to be the exclusive domain of the goalkeeper and no Rule forbidding a defender to defend the goal from a position on the goal-line. That might be the case in some circumstances if a Goal Zone was introduced, but no such thing has happened.

The principle of acceptance of risk is often trotted out at this juncture by those who advocate penalising defenders for defending, but it needs to be realized that in no sport (or any other area) does this principle apply if a Rule of the game has been breached (or a relevant Law or Regulation contravened) in the course of endangering or injuring the person who it is claimed accepted risk.

Acceptance of risk is acceptance of the risk of injury or actual injury due to an accidental action or what is termed “an Act of God”, something beyond human control. One player propelling the ball in a reckless and dangerous but intentional way towards another is not an accidental action or something beyond human control, so endangerment or injury from this kind of thing is not an acceptable risk, it’s an opposition offence, a foul.

It is of course extremely worrying that this FIH Official charged with Umpire Briefing at the highest level seems to believe that defenders have no right to defend on the goal-line and little? (but anyway an undefined) degree of protection from opponents who propel the ball at them in what would in other circumstances (for example not a shot at the goal) always be considered a dangerous way.

He comes close to saying that a shot at the goal against defenders on the goal-line cannot be considered to be dangerous play. If he believes that then he should not be assessing the performance of umpires during FIH Tournaments or be influencing their umpiring, because those views are not Rule compliant. How on earth did he get appointed to the position of Umpire Manager? Are the views of those considered for such appointments not discovered during interview? Who appointed him? Could it have been the FIH Umpiring Committee?

The Penalty Corner Rules 13.3. l and 13.3.m between them make clear that no shot at the goal should be made in a dangerous way. If a shot against penalty corner defenders (who are frequently positioned on the goal-line) could not be considered dangerous play, then there would be no need for Rule 13.3.m. it would comprise redundant and meaningless statements : perhaps it does.

There is no reason to suppose that actions that are considered dangerous propelling of the ball during a penalty corner should not also be considered dangerous in open play.

Roger Webb (formerly Secretary of the FIH Rules Committee) pointed out to me some years ago that the backboard height limit, where the ball has to cross the goal-line from a first hit shot for a goal to be scored, is part of the conditions for the scoring of a goal, it is not part of the dangerously played ball Rules (strange as that might seem because a ball hit into an out-runner, who is within 5m, at above knee height, will be considered to be dangerous play), so effectively a dangerously played ball is dangerous in much the same way during open play as it is during a penalty corner – and that is as it should be.

A dangerously played ball is however not exactly the same during a penalty corner as it is in open play. Due to the shenanigans of the South Korean out-runners during penalty corners in a pre-Olympic Tournament match against Pakistan in 2004. As a knee jerk reaction change to Rule the FIH RC decided that it would henceforth be mandatory that an out-runner, even within 5m, hit below the knee with a first shot would be penalised with another penalty corner. This is an aberration and a contradiction of what is considered dangerous propelling of the ball in open play – where there is no minimum height mentioned . In open play raising the ball towards an opponent with 5m is a prohibited action (although only scoops and flicks are mentioned, common sense and safety demands the inclusion of raised hits and intentional deflections). Therefore the dangerously played ball Rule is more severe in open play than it is during a first shot at goal during a penalty corner – second and subsequent hit shots and and all shots using other strokes during a penalty corner, are (in the absence of any other instruction), subject to the same Rules that apply in open play.

The lack of height control of the drag flick compared with a first hit stroke is confusing because 13.3.m states in effect that no flick or scoop may be made in a dangerous way at any time during a penalty corner – so not even as a first shot that is raised with a flick into an opponent within 5m at below knee height ???  One for the wordsmiths to sort out.

Rule 13.3.l regulates the first hit shot. Rule 13.3.m regulates all shots made with all other strokes and also with subsequent hit shots. (any hit shot made after a first hit shot). Participants are expected to know the Rules and to play to them, but also to gloss over these strange ambiguities, ignore them and pretend that they do not exist.