Penalty corner deflections. Free ball awarded within the opposing 23m area.

One of the Rules that has irritated me since it was introduced (in 2009) is the prohibition on the playing of the ball directly into the opponent’s circle from a free ball awarded in the opponents 23m area.


One of the objectives of the FIH and therefore of the Hockey Rules Board is to decrease the number and duration of interruptions to the flow of play and to increase the length of time the ball is in active play. With this in mind, the Rule specifying how a free hit is taken has been reviewed. The player taking the free hit may use a “selfpass”. Full details are provided in Rules 13.1 and 13.2.

Additionally, attacking free hits taken inside the 23 metres area have been reviewed in general and in relation to the “self-pass”. The Hockey Rules Board is concerned that the ball is often played hard, indiscriminately and therefore potentially dangerously into the circle. Rule 13.2 now specifies that the ball must not be played directly into the circle.

My irritation at this restriction is based on its irrationality and on the effect it has on the usefulness of the self-pass. It pretty much defeats the purpose of the introduction of the self pass, which was to speed up the game and eliminate delay (the delay of waiting for a team-mate to be available for a pass if the free ball was awarded to a player isolated by distance from others in the team)

Declaring that the ball is often hit hard and indiscriminately, and therefore potentially dangerously, into the circle from a free ball awarded within the opponents 23m area (and therefore has to be prohibited) is absurd. I can imagine the abuse I would (deservedly) have got for suggesting this idea if it had not already been introduced by the Hockey Rules Board.

One might just as well declare that in open play a ball played into the opponent’s circle from anywhere on the pitch is often hit hard and/or indiscriminately. In fact as a ball is often intentionally raised into the circle in open play using an edge hit, and this is frequently done without penalty, it can reasonably be argued that the intention of the Rule was to remove any advantage the award of a free ball, in the opposing 23m area, might confer on the team awarded (even if that would be daft).

After the Rule was issued senior umpires on Internet hockey forums asserted that it had been introduced to prevent the use of planned deflections from free balls hit into the circle, because such deflections were considered to be dangerous. The solution to that problem was to height limit such deflections, not to prevent the ball being immediately and directly played into the circle in any way at all, even if done safely.

Besides that, the conflict thrown up by what is allowed in normal open play and not allowed when a free ball is awarded in the opposing 23m area, there is the problem of planned deflections towards the goal during the taking of a penalty corner – when the notion that such a deflections might be considered dangerous play is just brushed aside as if irrelevant – simply dismissed – not considered at all.

In the video clips below are presented four planned penalty corner deflections.

1. Before the ball is inserted the player who is to receive the pass breaks into the circle and heads directly towards the (facing) right post defender and goes to ground to present the shaft of his stick to the ball. He deflects the ball from less than 1m distance from the defender up into the defender’s groin and injures him. The ball rebounds into the goal and a goal is awarded – instead of a 15m free ball to the defending team for dangerous play.

2. A hard push is made directly towards the center of the goal and the stick of an attacker who has run into position in advance of the pass (shot?) is presented flat on the ground to meet and deflect the ball. The ball flies high to the goal crossing the goal-line at about the head height of a defender who has taken evasive action. This match was played in the Netherlands (where players are not afforded the protection of the dangerously played ball Rule when defending a penalty corner) so a goal was awarded.

3. Similar to the first described example but the in-running attacker slides feet first into contact with the defender as he deflects the ball up into the defender’s legs. Inexplicably another penalty corner was awarded – whichever of the players was considered to have offended that could not have been the correct decision.

4. It ought to be demanded by Rule. that a shot at goal is not raised at a player at a unsafe height (which needs to be defined). If a first hit shot, even from the top of the D, is height limited (which it is) it makes no sense at all (given how much control there can be of the direction and height of a deflection) to allow close in deflections, of either shots or passes, to be raised high into the goal ‘through’ defenders or to be made into the bodies of defenders.

In summary.
The playing of the ball directly into the circle from a free ball awarded in the opponent’s 23m area ought to be treated in the same way as any free ball taken in the remainder of the pitch. It should be a free ball. The raft of 5m restrictions (e.g. the requirement that the ball has be moved 5m before being played into the circle when a free ball is taken using a self-pass), needs to be abolished.

It is necessary to restrict the height of deflections made towards the goal during a penalty corner – AND the raising of the ball towards an opponent in a way that contrary to what is described in the Explanation of Rule Application presented with Rule 9.9 (but also including with raised hits and intentional deflections).

4 Comments to “Penalty corner deflections. Free ball awarded within the opposing 23m area.”

  1. I think you have misinterpreted what was probably said by umpires at the time. I remember being told by senior umpires that it was to stop the “blast and hope” where a defender hit the ball as hard as they can hoping an attacker got a touch on it. The general situation was extremely dangerous, not only the deflection that occured from it. Nearly all higher level umpires i talked to at the time were clear that it was the uncontrolled hitinto the D that was the cause of most of the danger, not the deflection from a player at the back post.

    • No, I have not misrepresented what was said directly to me. But I agree that the ‘hit and hope’ argument was also presented. The same counter arguments apply to that assertion, there was (and remains) nothing at all to prevent that kind of play happening in open play or even from a free ball awarded from considerably beyond the 23m line – and then a pass of at least 5m from a free ball awarded within the 23m area nullified the restriction anyway.

      The ‘hit and hope’ argument was of course ‘hit into the long grass’ when very shortly after the restriction on a free ball awarded in the 23m area was imposed, we had the introduction of the ‘own goal’. Fortunately that was short lived but, its introduction killed the idea that those drafting and imposing the Rules at the time, knew what they were doing and considered the consequences of their actions.

    • And we still see blasting into the circle from open play, in the hopes of either getting a deflection or hitting some unsuspecting defender’s foot (which will result in the instant award of a penalty corner).

      • Exactly, singling out the free ball awarded within the 23m area for these inane restrictions makes no sense at all when there is no counterpart in open play and the intentional raising of the ball into the circle with a hit (which was at one time expressly prohibited) is now generally ignored because of “Forget lifted etc.” which directly contradicts Rule 9.9.

        I did not misrepresent what umpires said, I repeated what was said to me by umpires I talked with – other umpires came up with various other reasons for the restrictions including the official “Hard and indiscriminately” nonsense.

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