When is a Rule not a Rule.

There does not appear to be the slightest interest in holding the FIH Rules Committee to promises made when amendments were made to the Rules of Hockey by the FIH RC or its forerunner the FIH Hockey Rules Board. There may be some head scratching about that comment because these incidents have occurred at well spaced (but reducing) intervals over decades. However the effects of them are still seen and felt today.

The first I’ll mention is the deletion of the Offside Rule in 1997.
At the time the FIH RC wrote in the rule-book that following this deletion constrains would be placed on the actions of attackers close to the goal. Clearly the idea of ‘goal-hanging’ attackers shooting at goal at point blank range and without height restriction is a disturbing one. So what constrains did the FIH RC introduce? Answer, None. In fact 1997 is now so long ago that no-one raised an eyebrow when the Rules were amended in 2015 to allow attackers to shoot at goal when the ball was still above shoulder height (as long as this was done safely, ha ha), and the tennis smash style shots that are now frequently made are commended as skillful. Players changing in on a goal-keeper, before a drag-flick is made as a first shot during a penalty corner, in order to hit any rebound into the goal or to deflect from close range, a ball passed towards the goal, high into the net, are also a common sight. It’s not difficult to devise reasonable Rule to deal with all of these problems but no attempt has been made to do so. These obvious problems (dangers) aren’t even acknowledged to exist.

In 2002 there was an announcement made in the rule-book that an upcoming comprehensive rewrite of the Rules of Hockey would be complete, in that it would contain all the briefing notes previously set out elsewhere separately as advice and instruction to umpires officiating at international Tournaments, so other Rules documents would become unnecessary. But what had happened in 2004 when the promised rewrite was completed? All Advice to Umpires and Technical Interpretations, previously in separate sections at the back of the rule-book, were deleted. The rule-book, far from being a comprehensive Rules document, which included Umpire Briefing and perhaps also relevant playing parts of Tournament Regulations, became a skeleton of its former content and the Umpire Managers Briefing for Umpires at International Tournaments (the UMB) took on a new life, instead of being discontinued (as it still should be).

The UMB went on to conflict with and contradict the Rules of Hockey in some areas. For example Rule 9.9 concerning the intentionally raised hit was scuppered by the inane mantra ‘forget lifted – think danger‘ with the result that hits intentionally raised into the opponent’s circle are often not penalised even thought prior to 2004 any raising the ball into the opponent’s circle with any stroke had been expressly prohibited. This was one of the first constraints on attackers which was removed in a way that was contrary to the undertaking given in 1997.

The UMB also announced, contrary to what was given in the Explanation of Rule 9.9 that balls raised to below half shin-pad height are not dangerous – which is as daft as the recent change to the dangerous play Rule which declares that only opponents can be subjected to a dangerous play offence. It does not take much imagination to envisage scenarios (player fallen to ground for example) where a hit into them raised only about 8″ could be extremely dangerous, and one has only to mention the name Sam Ward to recall how easy it is for a player to inadvertently injure a team-mate.

In 2007 we had a Rules farce that ran in the other direction. The FIH RC deleted a Rule clause and individuals within other FIH Committees, notably Peter von Reth, the Chairman of the FIH Umpiring Committee, refused to accept the deletion, despite the FIH RC being the sole appointed Rule authority, as the FIH Executive had reaffirmed in a Executive Circular in 2002.

So from Feb 2007 when an ‘official Explanation of Rule 9.11’ (which was nothing of the sort) was posted on the FIH website, until May 2015, “or gains benefit” was applied as if it was still part of Rule 9.11. The restoration of the clause to the rule-book, as advantage gained, did not occur until January of 2016.

We then had in 2011 the bizarre situation where the Forcing Rule was deleted, but the offence was not, because the reason given for the deletion was “because any action of this sort can be dealt with under other Rules” but umpires immediately stopped penalising forcing offences (to the great detriment of the game). The deletion of the ‘gains benefit’ clause was ignored and the clause continued to be applied as Rule even though there was no mention of it in a rule-book for a period of nine years, the penalising of forcing offences ceased in 2011 and there has been no further mention of this offence, despite it still being an offence, in a rule-book since then..

The ‘gains benefit’ clause should not have been deleted because that removed appropriate penalty for the direct prevention of a goal with an accidental ball-body(foot/leg) contact, but it certainly needed to be amended and reinforced, because standard umpire coaching at the time (which I was on the receiving end of) was that any ball-body contact would gain a benefit for the team of the player hit with the ball, an obvious nonsense which no umpire should have accepted as proper direction because it turned one of the two criteria for a ball-body contact offence ‘on its head’.

No one who can remember how hockey was played prior to 1993 when what was called a New Interpretation of obstruction was introduced (which was nothing of the sort, it was an Exception to the Rule, which applied only to a player in the act of receiving and controlling the ball; the criteria for the offence, the illegal prevention of a legitimate tackle for the ball, remained and remains exactly as it always has been), can be comfortable watching the way hockey is now played. Here again the long practice of umpires interpreting in their own way (or to instruction given by Umpire Managers) caused them to completely ignore the extension of a clause in the Rule Explanation of Rule 9.12, added in 2009, which prohibited a player who had received and controlled the ball, from moving to position between an opponent and the ball – which should of course include moving to maintain an existing ball shielding position and backing or leading the ball with the body into the playing reach of a defender (advice which was ‘lost’ in the vandalism which was called the rewrite of 2004).

The above is an brief account of some of the odd things which have happened. But I have not mentioned the important subject of dangerous play and the inexcusable introduction during the Beijing Olympics of the idea that an on target shot at the goal could not be considered to be dangerous play (again the 1997 constraints on attackers upended) That surfaced again from an umpire during the 2010 World Cup, and was present, in slightly altered form, in the Briefing video for the Rio Olympics, so the idea has not yet been discarded despite its absurdity.

One of the strangest things to have happened in the last few years is the issue of a letter from the Royal Dutch Hockey Board to umpires in the Netherlands, in 2018, instructing them that legitimate evasive action (the causing of which defines a dangerously played ball) does not apply to defenders defending the goal during a penalty corner. Strange because this National Board does not have the authority to issue such an instruction, but stranger still, because although aware that this has happened (I know they were informed in November of 2018) the FIH Rules Committee and the FIH Executive have done nothing at all to correct this situation.

The application of the Rules to which the game of hockey is supposed to be played is a mess, and the apathy of ‘the hockey community’ and ‘the hockey family’ (and their and the FIH Rules Committee’s apparent powerlessness to control Umpire Managers) are ensuring that it stays that way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.