A shot towards the goal

There is nothing in the Rules of Hockey to support the notion that an on target shot at the goal cannot be dangerous play.

There is nothing in the Rules of Hockey pertaining to open play that supports the idea that a dangerously raised ball must be raised to above knee level.
(A first hit shot made during a penalty corner must not be raised to above knee level, but that is not a dangerous play Rule, it is a condition that must be met for a hit shot from which a goal may be scored, which incidentally keeps play safer than it might otherwise be).

Oddly umpires normally penalise as dangerous a ball that is raised into an opponent within 5m; this has become accepted practice even though Rule 9.9 expressly prohibits only the raising of the ball into an opponent within 5m with a flick or scoop stroke. An exception to this sensible practice has been made for the on-target shot at the goal – and this exception is applied even when the ball is raised into a close opponent with a flick or scoop.

Since 2018 further misinformation has appeared which is closely allied with the notion that an on-target shot at the goal cannot be dangerous play. This is the idea that during a penalty corner legitimate evasive action does not apply in the case of a defender positioned on the goal-line. This idea is contrary to Rules 13.3.l and 13.3.m, which are about the making of a shot at goal during a penalty corner, and to Rule 9.8 which states, without exception, that a ball that is played at an opponent in a way that causes legitimate evasive action (necessary evasion of the ball to avoid injury) IS dangerous play.

There is no height limit mentioned in either Rule 9.8 or Rule 9.9 and no distance limitation for LEA mentioned in Rule 9.8. (The advice to umpires included in the UMB, that a ball raised to below half shin-pad height is not dangerous, in not included in the Rules of Hockey – so it isn’t a Rule of hockey).

I find myself in a position that is difficult to justify. I approve of umpires including hits and deflections that are raised into close opponents within the meaning of dangerous play, even though there is no Rule support for this practice. However I disapprove of umpires casting aside the relevant dangerously played ball Rules when a shot is on target and causes a defender to take evasive action, precisely because that approach is contrary to FIH published Rule.

On page 2 of the rule-book players are instructed to play with consideration for the safety of other players, this is a very broad and vague Rule, but it is a Rule (even if unnumbered and not included in the Conduct of Play Rule). Rule 9. Conduct of play, is prefaced with the instruction that players are required to play responsibly. Hitting the ball at maximum velocity into the legs of an opponent who is here within 3m, is obviously not playing responsibly or with consideration for the safety of that opponent.

It is inconvenient for attackers that they are instructed not to endanger opponents because that requires that they develop skills beyond just hitting the ball as hard as possible towards a close opponent, but hockey is supposed to be a game of skill, not brute force.

On balance I think it better that umpires do not invent Rule (which they call Interpretation), and where there needs to be sensible adjustment (as in the case of a hit or intentional deflection raised towards an opponent within 5m), the FIH Rules Committee become alert enough to recognize it and make suitable Rule amendment to correct what is (or should be) obviously an inane current Rule.

The fact that there is no height limit (aside from above knee height towards an out-runner within 5m during a penalty corner) to describe any endangerment, be it from a hit or drag-flick or scoop, should be a scandal, but the FIH has been so inept and participants so apathetic (“Not our business” “Can’t be bothered”) that this situation has continued for decades, despite an apparently frantically busy Rule authority “simplifying and clarifying” the rule-book during this entire period.

In fact any attempt to address the issue of the dangerously played ball (or the Obstruction Rule) has been vigorously rejected by the umpires who are or have been the moderators of the four Internet hockey forums that I have been ejected from (I report with pride that I have been ejected/banned twice for raising the problem of the non-application of the Obstruction Rule and twice for comment about the dangerously played ball – my speed record is a ban for life by the Australian HA immediately after I made one post, but their hockey forum was discontinued within a month, they didn’t really want ‘outsiders’ questioning their assertions but others, in support of me, continued to do so).

The assertion in question on that occasion was made by an FIH Umpire and was that a player hit with the ball in front of the goal should always be penalised with a penalty stroke – part of the notion that a shot at goal cannot be considered to be dangerous play. That record might be thought to be something to do with my peculiarly aggressive writing style (an opinion that was voiced), but anybody who attempts to discuss either of these subjects in a rational way on an Internet hockey forum will be greeted with yawns (of feigned boredom) or dismay and the topic thread they opened to make their comment very quickly closed down.

I invite anyone to try it and experience the wall of resistance to such discussions that exists. Meanwhile the FIH RC continues to pretend to welcome comments and suggestions for Rule improvements from anyone who cares to make them.

A Comment received

Salisu JabboI I think the umpires are applying the rule the way they see see it. Where in the rule does it say every shot at goal is dangerous. If the umpires are inventing it, how. I are agreed with you that some shot at goal are dangerous, especially when it causes evasive action or from close proximity.

Note I have never suggested that all shots raised towards the goal are dangerous or even that a goal-bound shot raised towards a defender will be dangerous. Distance from the shooter (ball), ball height and ball velocity should always be considerations in this decision. (Ball velocity does not even get a mention in the Rules of Hockey and the single reference to ball height is confined to shots made during a penalty corner, particularly the first hit shot)


Anyone who declares that an on target shot at the goal CANNOT be dangerous play (which is what has repeatedly been declared since Beijing in 2008) is profoundly ignorant i.e. they may never have seen a hockey match.

If, after seeing a number of hockey matches, umpires are prepared to make that statement, they are incredibly stupid and dangerous and should not be permitted to umpire any hockey match. How somebody that stupid becomes an umpire is a matter that is worthy of close attention.

That experienced international level umpires, many of whom are responsible for coaching other umpires, could support the ‘cannot be dangerous’ statement is beyond comprehension. But, in the Rules of Hockey, umpires are given no instruction at all regarding ball height when a ball is raised towards an opponent in open play (bar the inane not dangerous below half-shin pad height, from the UMB) and only limited instruction in this regard (knee height) when a ball is raised towards an opponent within 5m during a penalty corner (they are simply told in Rule that a shot at goal must not be made in a dangerous way during a penalty corner -Rule 13.3.m).

No advise at all is offered about ball velocity, none is offered about identifying ‘legitimate evasive action’ and there is no instruction whatsoever (more than twenty years after the drag-flick was introduced) about a ball raised towards an opponent from more than 5m.

You ask “Where in the rule does it say every shot at goal is dangerous?” when you could more reasonably have asked “Where in the rule does it say that a shot made at goal may be dangerous (and say how or why)?” or “Where in Rule is a dangerous shot at the goal described (the criteria laid out)?”

Against that background umpires are supposed to interpret and apply Rule. What Rule wording are they supposed to be interpreting? Answer:- None; they are supposed to be interpreting player actions for compliance with certain and well understood Rules (which do not exist).

The umpires I have (many times) seen award a goal or a penalty stroke when a ball has been raised as a shot at goal high (at head, neck, or chest) into a defender from considerably less then 5m are, presumably, ‘interpreting’ Rule (whatever that means) or following Briefing instructions (more likely), but they are not applying any FIH published Rule rationally or correctly. If they were they would be able to quote it. They cannot quote a Rule to support the idea that an on target shot at the goal cannot be considered dangerous play, so instead they present a baseless (contrary to Common Law) argument about “acceptance of risk.” on the part of defenders. The risk from any action which is contrary to a Rule of a game (a shot at goal must not be made in a dangerous way – Rule 13.3.m.), cannot legally be said to be an accepted risk.

Any raising of the ball towards an opponent within 5m should be considered to be dangerous play, but as mentioned above, the FIH Rules Committee have made a mess of the relevant Rule (9.9) by including only flick and scoop strokes in it, and also by not mentioning ball height or velocity (both of which relate to the propensity of a ball to injure anyone hit with it, and could give good reason for an attempt at evasive action).

Causing legitimate evasive action (an entirely subjective judgement) remains in many instances the sole criterion for a dangerously played ball, which is itself a subjective judgement, but umpires who act as if a shot at the goal cannot be considered to be dangerous play (here supposedly following the insistence of the FIH that there be an emphasis on player safety) ignore evasive action, in favour of the objective “at the goal”. They have no reasonable defence for adopting this practice.

6 Comments to “A shot towards the goal”

  1. I was hit on tbe forehead with a raised ball whilst defending a goal 4 years ago which resulted in a permanent loss of sense of smell and taste. That was in a “friendly” masters veterans’ game. I’m glad it didn’t happen 50 years earlier.

    • Sorry to hear that John. Did the umpire penalise the shooter or penalise you? Did this incident happen in open play or during a penalty corner?

      • It was in open play in the circle. The attacker was about 3 metres from the goal, close to the backline, and flicked the ball towards the goal as I was closing in on him. I went down dazed but did not lose consciousness. I took no further part in the game and do not remember exactly what happened next but believe we were awarded a free hit. I also umpire at level 1 standard in the UK and can confirm, in my experience, that there is a general belief amongst the players, and some umpires, that when it is a shot at goal anything goes.

      • Well a head high flick from 3m+ is clearly dangerous play in any circumstances, but it is amazing what a grip the nonsense that “an on target shot at the goal cannot be considered dangerous” has had – or should I say has – on participants since it was seen in 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, considering the idea is completely at odds with the supposed ’emphasis on safety ‘ and the Rule that players must play with consideration for the safety of other players. A case of a lie traveling half way around the world before the truth has got its pants on.

        I was umpiring a vets match at Staines HC back in 2009 when a player from the home team (‘my’ team) hit a ball from just inside the circle directly into the chest of a defender 3m-4m away who was closing on him (similar to your incident but a raised hit). The umpire at that end awarded a penalty corner and I stopped time to go and confer with him. I said to him “Surely that was dangerous play” “Yes you are right he said” I went back to my position and watched in amazement as he proceeded to oversee the penalty corner he had awarded. I suppose he meant that the closing player was creating danger. After the match in the changing room the captain of the home side, an idiot named Mike Smith, asked me why I had gone and spoken to the other umpire. When I told him, he got annoyed and said “But it was a shot on goal !!”. We then had a very heated argument. I never umpired for his team again.

      • Despite being in my 73rd year I only qualified as an umpire 13 years ago. In that time I have witnessed at least 3 serious head injuries that have put people in hospital. Like most hockey players, I love the game and accept there are certain risks, but the IFH shouldn’t claim it is a safe sport because it isn’t. In a match I umpired on Saturday a young lad broke a bone in his leg after running off the pitch and colliding with the fence. So is the official position still, that a shot at goal can’t be judged as dangerous?
        PS I now live in the north east but was born and raised in the south, so our paths may well have crossed. I umpired a match at Staines shortly after qualifying when I was with Abingdon HC.

      • That an on target shot at the goal cannot be considered dangerous play has never had official approval i.e. that statement/idea has never appeared in a rule-book in any form (quite the contrary) BUT, BUT, it was the way senior umpires allowed played to ‘develop’ i.e. they did nothing to discourage the idea that defenders were ‘fair game’ and even responsible for any injury caused to them. They routinely penalised defenders who were hit with a raised ball propelled directly at them. The FIH turned a blind eye (as usual).

        I must have missed you at Staines as I had moved on before 2010. I have a very different umpiring history to yours. I started while still at school and was umpiring First XI level Sunday matches (outside the League) by 1964, a couple of years before I was a good enough player to be playing at that level myself. I quit umpiring in 2009 so I was involved in it for forty-five years – I am now 77 years old – but I did not join an Umpiring Association – and accept appointments in league hockey – until 1992, in my mid forties. Even then I quickly dropped out of the league scene and was ‘adopted’ by the 3XI at Surbiton HC where I was a member. I kept in trim by umpiring at the training sessions between Surbiton’s First and Second teams on a Thursday evening, doing that on my own from a central position much like a soccer referee. Good fun with lots of banter and heaps of abuse in both directions.

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