This blog is mainly about the FIH Rules of Hockey, which all participants in a hockey match are obliged to be aware of and abide by. It does not pretend to be the Rules of Hockey – which may be found via the link at the bottom of this page – but offers suggestions that, hopefully, may improve the Rules and interpretation of them, and thereby the game for players, umpires and spectators.

The author is Martin Conlon.  A former player (Blackheath HC , Slough HC, Hounslow HC, Surbiton HC, Maidenhead HC, and Lusitanians) former umpire (Surrey Umpires Association), former hockey coach (Cuba to Junior World Cup and Pan American Games), retired but still alive and kicking.

The photograph was taken while I was coaching in Cuba over twenty years ago. My eyebrows are now grey and the beard entirely white and there is not much hair left on top of my head. I also wear glasses just to walk around without bumping into things. I like to think that my mind is still sharp (if it could ever have been described thus) but I know from the way I play chess (another passion) that this is not always the case. In other words I am getting old; some would say that I am old, too old to be messing about with a hockey blog about the Rules of Hockey, but it must be done. I strongly disagree with those who suggest that we need a period of ‘consolidation’ with little or no change made to the Rules. I want to see the current Rules dismantled and reassembled properly so that they are fit for purpose.

There is no good reason why the Rules of Hockey are not as well understood and practiced as the Rules of Chess are, but the Rules of chess have been established for around five hundred years, after the game had been played for more than three thousand years, while hockey in the ‘modern’ format (with the present ball size and weight – everything else has been changed several times) has been played only since the early 1860’s, so there may be some excuse for the current bewilderment. Change takes a very long time to adjust to and is often not accepted at all. There is still wailing going on about the deletion of the Offside Rule (the last remnant of it, from the 23m line, was removed in 1997) and the fact that top class hockey is no longer played on natural grass surfaces.

The FIH have declared that they welcome any suggestions for improvement to the Rules of Hockey that any person wants to offer to them. I have suggested many changes, a few have been accepted by the Rules Committee, but I am tenaciously opposed to Rule changes made ‘on the fly’ during matches by officials who cannot have considered the long-term consequences of ‘interpretations’ made in this way. Even some changes (introductions) previously made by the FIH RC and approved by the FIH Executive (the only permitted method of introducing Rule or Rule change) have proved either disastrous or unworkable within a year of enactment (the current prohibition on the playing of the ball directly into the opponents circle from a free ball awarded in their 23m area and the (near opposite) the now long gone and short lived, Own Goal are two examples that come easily to mind). Even some Rules which can be seen to be vast improvements on previously allowed play, have disappointed because they were hemmed in by unnecessary restrictions (the Self pass for example) or were not restricted enough (eg. playing of the ball at above shoulder height, which I believe should not be permitted to players when in their opponent’s circle)

This is not a forum but comments concerning The Rules of Hockey and the interpretation and application of them, are welcome.

The present Rules of Hockey are not perfect, they never have been, but some Rules which have been deleted could usefully be restored, some of the present ones withdrawn, and new ones added, to make the whole better than it currently is. The current ‘interpretations’ of some of the Rules are simply bizarre. The video clip below shows the first five minutes of a match between Argentina and the Netherlands during the World League Finals in January 2014 and provides a representative sample of what is being ‘cascaded’ down through all levels of hockey. Such ‘practice’ contradicts what is given in the rule-book, confusing both players and umpires, and hockey now in many ways resembles a version of soccer played with sticks.

Obstruction is the illegal prevention of a tackle attempt. Shielding of the ball, with the body or stick, to prevent an opponent playing at the ball and/or moving bodily, i.e. leading the ball, into the playing reach of an opponent while in possession of it are both specified within the Obstruction Rule (Rule 9.12) as illegal actions (actions that are contrary to the Rule) but you wouldn’t learn that from watching a hockey match – and some will disagree that the second described action is obstruction.

Following the change to Rule 9.11. made in January 2015 (and it was a significant change that was made not just a clarification because ‘gains benefit’ was deleted from the Rules of Hockey after 2006)  ‘gains an advantage’ is likely once again (this is the forth incarnation since 1993) to  be a blanket ‘catch all’ – so nothing has been learned and there may be no improvement to present practice and no progress made in this area. An alternative suggestion, only applying ‘gained unfair advantage’ to two or three well defined types of action, such as the prevention of a certain goal following a non-dangerous shot and only penalising ball-body contact by a player who gains an advantage from such contact while in possession of the ball, will not be tried out.

 I fully accept that not all will agree with much of what I suggest to resolve what I see as fundamental – and unwelcome  – changes to the nature of the game. I will be pleased to receive reasoned counterargument on any point I have made concerning the Rules of Hockey or serious alternative Rule or explanation of application of Rule suggestions from anyone who wishes to give them.

There has been no change to the Rules concerning the dangerously played ball, obstruction, the self-pass, or to the lifted hit – all of which I see as being badly flawed – in the past year, so my efforts to encourage change in these areas (and others) must continue.  The Rules concerning the taking of a free-ball are an over-restrictive and complicated mess. The own goal has come and is (thankfully) gone, but the recently introduced play at above shoulder height obviously needs more control than has been put in place and ‘interpretation’ (invention of ‘Rules’) is a ‘runaway train’ despite the FIH Executive having made it very clear that no individual and no body outside of the full FIH Rules Committee is permitted to make change the Rules or to the interpretation of them and that the FIH Executive must approve any amendments to the Rules made by the FIH RC before they may be applied in a hockey match.

The three areas that are subject to more misdirection, myth and mischief than others are:-

1) Ball-body contact, which is again encumbered with a vague gains advantage/benefit clause, misuse of the Advantage Rule and bizarre ‘interpretation’, which in combination lead to the penalising of almost all ball-body contact, particularly ball-foot contact, instead, as should be the case, very little interruption to the game for ball contact incidents. I estimate that about 95% of ball-foot contact that is penalised should not be. i.e. penalty follows ‘automatically’ irrespective of how or why a player is hit with the ball or the outcome.

2) Obstruction (ball shielding) to which Rule Interpretation deleted in 2004 is still being (often unknowingly) applied. Here we are taken in the opposite direction from the way the ball-body contact Rule is applied, with many players and umpires apparently being unaware that ball shielding to prevent an opponent, who would otherwise be able to play at the ball, from doing so, is an offence – and that the only exceptions to that general statement occurs only during the time a player, who is shielding the ball from an opponent, is receiving and controlling the ball and when (for obstruction with the body) a tackling player is not his or her own goal-side of the ball (a stick obstruction may still occur when a tacker is behind the play and his or her stick is fended off by the player in possession of the ball).

3) The dangerously played ball, particularly the raised shot at the goal, which some seem to believe cannot be considered dangerous in any circumstances. There is also a body of mistaken opinion that a ball raised high at another player cannot be dangerous to that player and need not be penalised if raised from beyond 5m – that needs to be corrected.

These areas will remain the main focus of this blog.



http://www.fih.ch/en/sport/rules      FIH Rules of Hockey

4 Comments to “About”

  1. I agree with your interpretation and how the rule is not properly enforced. I hope to connect with you for further discussion.

  2. Very interesting reading. Lying on my bunk bed in the old people’s home in grumpyville I have relived hockey from age 9(1960).The old rules of .1 Sticks(shoulder height). 2. Obstruction( players running into back of you with sticks up in air!!). 3Roll ins.(sleight of hand). 4,Catching ball in air( can’t catch but palm it straight down. ) . Bully off.(. In my 20s I learnt from a Dutch international at folkestone for Loughborough colleges. On 3rd slap hit their stick hard away from ball! Ingenious!. Funniest was Goalkeeping kit. Our school goalie at Royal Masonic, Bushey was a footballer. He headed ball away. No helmet no face mask. No fear!!. . All sports have changed a lot in last 50 years or so. Not football though ( why not?). After a couple of bottles of wine I once wrote the following rule changes. 1. Score anywhere inside 25! . 2. Different points system not goals . Inside goal target areas. Top corners 3 pts. Halfway 2 pts On ground 1 pt… Deflections off own player ( 2pts). No own goals. 3.Players sent off have to write a short letter of apology( in their native language). 4.No tea if you miss 3open goals. What do you think 😎🏑😁😋🤓😭😁🤡🙃

    • Good to hear from you. Must be good wine. We have had a few of those ideas introduced. Scoring from anywhere in the 25m area for example. It was a very short lived experiment because it was lethal because of course no height limit on a shot was still insisted upon and it was seen as a defender’s fault if he got hit with the ball (that is still the general view). We have had different points for field goals and penalty corner goals but not for scoring in different parts of the goal – I would award higher points for the low shot goals and low points for the high shot scores, but then I think, very unfashionably, that the mythical emphasis on player safety ought to be a fact. I’m not sure about requiring players to learn to write in their own language, we could lose some of the best players, and missing an open goal was always a jug offence and should remain so.

      As you will have realized from reading my stuff I am ‘into’ the Rules of the game, even more more now than when I was a player. I was umpiring when I was at school and I took charge of club Sunday matches in my teens back in the days when playing on a Sunday was frowned upon by many people. (Do you remember Easter Hockey Festivals where there was no play on Sunday morning so that participants could attend church?) Those friendly fixtures were sometimes of a very high standard with several international level players on both sides. Gore Court for example played Blackheath Outcasts (so called because they played on Sundays) regularly, with Basil Christensen, Alan Page, Ivan Clarke and other notables turning out for GC. Before I was good enough to play for the Lusitanians, most of whom were international level players, I became their regular umpire for the fixtures at Crystal Palace. I usually volunteered for the umpiring pool whenever taking part in a Hockey Festival rather than playing drinking games between the matches.
      In the ‘good old days’ some of which were awful, players were discouraged from umpiring and playing and were required to choose one or the other if they wanted League appointments, so I didn’t join an Umpiring Association until I was in my mid-fories and being “too old” even though I was still running 400m races competitively with an athletics club, was not considered for promotion at all.

      I really am too old to be umpiring now, but I despair when I see the mess the current top flight appointees make of the job. I noted that you wrote of the Obstruction Rule as if it no longer existed; it certainly does exist (at least it is in the published Rules of Hockey and not much changed from the way it was written twenty years ago) but it is no longer applied, and the way the game is played now, no one not familiar with the Rules would know it was any different from the way obstruction is dealt with in soccer. I am trying to change that, and also the attitude to ball body contact Rule and to the Rules concerning the dangerously played ball, it’s an uphill struggle.


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