World Hockey 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.

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 injuries that result, because legitimate evasive action is already supposed to define a dangerously played ball (but in practice doesn’t).

What actually happens is quite different If an ‘on target’ high shot at the goal 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, at what would otherwise be considered a dangerous height, 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 (they are penalised as non-compliant, not dangerous and a goal may not be scored with a non-compliant shot).

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.

England Hockey also misses the point.

It is of course necessary to track injuries and record how they are caused, but injuries are only a very small 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 their sticks, 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.

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