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.

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