Posts tagged ‘Interpretation’

December 4, 2019

Change, intention and perceptions

There is a persistent perception among umpires that it is part of their task to interpret the wording of the Rules for meaning and intent and then apply the Rules according to their personal interpretations (or the personal interpretations of an Umpire Manager or Umpire Coach given in a tournament briefing). But this perception is contrary to what has been circulated to National Associations from the FIH Executive – so long ago now that the current Executive Members will have forgotten that they (their predecessors) ever did it, even if they were at one time aware of the relevant documents. According to this document even the publication of a written UMB should have been discontinued.

From an FIH Executive Report 2001-2002 .

FIH Highlights Hockey Rules Board

In line with our overall aims, the last two years have,on the one hand, been a period of transition for the Hockey Rules Board (HRB) – while on the other it has been a period of relative consolidation. The transition has focused on incorporation of research and development of the rules within the active remit of the HRB rather than in a separate but linked Rules Advisory Panel, which has now been disbanded.

The Rules Advisory Panel, as might be expected, became a pressure group and advocated many changes that the HRB did not adopt, much to the chagrin of the Advisory Panel. It was not mere coincidence that the disbanding of the Rules Advisory Panel coincided with the announcement that only the FIH HRB had the authority to introduce or amend Rule or Rule interpretation.

At the same time, the rules themselves have been through a period of consolidation rather than significant change. But this does not mean that the HRB has not been active, as the following report will testify.

Rules Changes

One change, which has been significant, at least as measured by the range of views about it, is allowing the edge of the stick to be used to play the ball. This change was introduced as a mandatory experiment in 1999 and was continuously reviewed. Views about it ranged from a welcome for an action which gave players more options and which in particular could be used for exciting shots at goal, to concern that it might lead to danger or could damage sticks. Making a decision involved a delicate and careful balance of these issues,with the HRB deciding that the experiment should run for a third year but that, with effect from 2002, the change would be incorporated as a formal rule.

I had by 2002 been advocating for some years, the abolition of the back-sticks Rule. Usually to a chorus of abuse from hockey forum contributors who made ribald comments comparing my suggestion to ice hockey and saying that stick-work would disappear. I still believe the abolition of back-sticks would have been a wiser move than the introduction of edge hitting (with a back-sticks Rule still in place).

I have posted a picture of an Internet hockey forum post below; in the same topic thread contributors write of edge hitting being snuck in via the back door – an amazing attitude considering it had a three year Mandatory Experiment. What I think they mean is that edge hitting was imposed, despite widespread protest, which was just ignored. But the upending of this 2001 change (below) in 2011, apparently had full approval despite much objection to the deletion of the stand alone Forcing Rule. I certainly objected to it because it was obvious where it would lead (which it has)

Another change, which deserves comment, was the introduction in 2001 of a rule, which explicitly makes manufacturing a foul an offence. This reflects an ongoing concern by the HRB to protect skill and encourage attractive hockey by reducing negative and destructive actions.

The forgiving phrase “finding a foot” is the term currently used for what is now, by television commentators, called a skill, rather than cheating and a foul, which it still is (another forgotten part of Rule history). Forcing is now supposed to be “dealt with under other Rules” but the FIH Rules Committee have overlooked their own announcement ever since it was made, and most umpires are completely unaware of it, which is of course no surprise. It was unreasonable to make an announcement in a 2011 rule-book and then not bother to include it in subsequent rule-books, unless of course there was another formal deletion, but that never happened. There was an initial transfer to “other Rules” in 2011, and nothing has been published by the FIH RC in a rule-book or elsewhere on the matter since then – not even note of what the “other Rules” might be.

The first forgotten Rule promise I came across when researching past Rules, related to the final deletion of Off-side in 1997 (a huge advantage gifted to attackers with no compensation at all offered to the defending team). At the time the HRB wrote that measures would be put in place to constrain the actions of attackers close to the goal (to protect defenders). They then promptly ‘forgot’ about that undertaking. In fact they have since removed the few safeguards that were in place in 1997.

Forbidding players to play or play at an above shoulder height ball when in the opponent’s circle and the introduction of a *Goal Zone could go some way towards fulfilling the now distant obligation of the Rules Committee to honour their word in this area.


The 2008 forum post pictured below refers to the removal of the “old system of Obstruction” which was a very strange phrasing. But then in 2009 a clause extension which considerably strengthened the existing interpretation, by prohibiting a player in possession of the ball moving to position between the ball and an opponent who was attempting to play at it, was introduced. It was the last amendment made to the Obstruction Rule, and it remains part of the current Rule. It made no difference at all to the strange idea that a previous ‘system’ had been removed when it had in fact been reinforced. Umpires behaved and still behave as if the Obstruction Rule had been -as one put it – “deconstructed years ago”.

One of the major problems of personal ‘interpretations’ is that they tend to confirm beliefs that are already held, no matter what the wording of them may be, confirmation bias just ignores the meaning of words or attempts to find a way around them. There is no recognition of cognitive dissidence.

A study of the history of the ball-body contact Rule makes that clear, even when (in 1992) the criteria for an ball body contact offence was deliberate use of the body to stop or deflect the ball and advantage gained (note not or advantage gained), umpires blithely continued to penalise just because a ball body contact was made, exactly as they usually do now even when there is neither clear intent seen (contact is obviously accidental or even deliberately (and unavoidably) forced by an opponent) or any tangible advantaged gained because of such a contact.

The ‘system’ of interpretation of the Obstruction Rule which was put in place in a time beyond living memory, was not altered by the 1993 receiving exception (the so called ‘new interpretation’, which was nothing of the sort, the criteria for obstruction outside of the receiving situation did not change at all) or changed by any of several word alterations (called ‘housekeeping’) prior to 2009 (the last prior to the 2004 Rules of Hockey rewrite, in 2001), or by the 2009 clause expansion. The criteria for obstruction remained exactly as they always were. Shielding the ball to prevent an opponent (who would otherwise have been able to do so) from attempting to play directly the ball, is now and has been for many decades an offence. But several contributors to the forum were content with the declaration that the Obstruction Rule was (in their view correctly) no longer applied – no one disagreed.

I was in 2009 banned from this forum for persistently pointing out the text of the Rules to Keely Dunn and her followers, who did not think Rule wording relevant to umpiring practice. They wrote with scorn of “the black and white of the written Rules” which they thought of as a straight-jacket and of ‘grey areas’ that require personal interpretation (ignoring that most Rule breach is perfectly clear). I agree that the writing of the Rules could be much improved, but no suggested improvement ever came from these people, just their own very varied umpiring ‘practice’, which they regarded as being as good in each case (no matter how different) as an official replacement of Rule. The notion, for example, that a high deflection which was falling onto a contested position or a lob shot at the goal, could NOT be treated as a falling a ball, (i.e. Rule 9.10 did not apply), were Dunn inventions which she insisted were correct interpretation. She used her status as an FIH Umpire and a declaration of universal support and consensus among umpires concerning her views, to bully anyone who dared to disagree with her.

There has been no improvement in application of the Obstruction Rule in the intervening ten or more years, quite the contrary. If some of the body blocking actions that are now routinely carried out by ball holders appeared in the early 1990’s the FIH might have stepped in to prevent the total collapse of the Rule and runaway ‘interpretation’ – but maybe not. The late George Croft the former Hon.Sec. of the HRB wrote, in some desperation I think, in the preface of the 1998 Rules of Hockey “Despite what some people think there still is an Obstruction Rule”. The destruction of this Rule has taken place over a long period with the destroyers getting more brazen year on year.

Here is a typical 2019 example of non-application of Rule and the type of play that it has encouraged. The attacker breaches every one of the obstructive play clauses and the defender does not even realize that the attacker has fouled him. The comments made below the video by an individual umpire give a good insight into the current attitude to Rule interpretation and application among certain umpiring groups.

June 15, 2019

Which Rules should be amended or deleted? – Prelim.

Rules of Hockey.

I am going to confine this article to Rules 9, 10 and 11 Conduct of Play, Rule 12 Penalties and Conduct of Play Umpires. In other words to the Rules all participants should know if they are to take part in the game with comprehension of what they and others are doing.

Initially I will ignore the provided Explanation of Rule application but later (as each Rule is examined) make full suggestion for the Explanations (Instructions). I would also like to see changes to match duration and to the Rules of substitution but will deal with those in another article. The Rules of Conduct of Penalties will also be dealt with in another article.

I highlight in red the Rules which I feel need either amendment by expansion, replacement or deletion. I will make no further comment in these articles about those Rules below that are not highlighted in red.

9 Conduct of play : players.

Players are expected to act responsibly at all times.

9.1 A match is played between two teams with not more than eleven players of each team on the field at the same time.

9.2 Players on the field must hold their stick and not use it in a dangerous way.

9.3 Players must not touch, handle or interfere with other players or their sticks or clothing.

9.4 Players must not intimidate or impede another player.

9.5 Players must not play the ball with the back of the stick.

9.6 Players must not hit the ball hard on the forehand with the edge of the stick.

9.7 Players may stop, receive and deflect or play the ball in controlled manner in any part of the field when the ball is at any height including above the shoulder unless this is dangerous or leads to danger.

9.8 Players must not play the ball dangerously or in a way which leads to dangerous play.

9.9 Players must not intentionally raise the ball from a hit except for a shot at goal

9.10 Players must not approach within 5 metres of an opponent receiving a falling raised ball until it has been received, controlled and is on the ground.

9.11 Field players must not stop, kick, propel, pick up, throw or carry the ball with any part of their body.

9.12 Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play the ball.

9.13 Players must not tackle unless in a position to play the ball without body contact.

9.14 Players must not intentionally enter the goal their opponents are defending or run behind either goal.

9.15 Players must not change their stick between the award and completion of a penalty corner or penalty stroke unless it no longer meets the stick specification.

9.16 Players must not throw any object or piece of equipment onto the field, at the ball, or at another player, umpire or person.

9.17 Players must not delay play to gain benefit by time-wasting.

10 Conduct of Play, Goalkeepers.

10.1 A goalkeeper must not take part in the match outside the 23
metres area they are defending, except when taking a penalty stroke.
Protective headgear must be worn by a goalkeeper at all times, except when taking a penalty stroke.

10.2 When the ball is inside the circle they are defending and they have their stick in their hand:

10a Goalkeepers are permitted to use their stick, feet, kickers, legs or leg guards or any other part of their body to deflect the ball over the back-line or to play the ball in any other direction.

10.3 Goalkeepers must not lie on the ball.

10.4 When the ball is outside the circle they are defending, goalkeepers are only permitted to play the ball with their stick.

11 Conduct of Play. Umpires

11.1 Two umpires control the match, apply the Rules and are the judges of fair play.

11.2 Each umpire has primary responsibility for decisions in one half of the field for the duration of the match.

11.3 Each umpire is responsible for decisions on free hits in the circle, penalty corners, penalty strokes and goals in one half of the field.

11.4 Umpires are responsible for keeping a written record of goals scored and of warning or suspension cards used.

11.5 Umpires are responsible for ensuring that the full time is played and for indicating the end of time for each quarter and for the completion of a penalty corner if a quarter is prolonged.

11.6 Umpires blow the whistle to etc etc.:

11.7 Umpires must not coach during a match.

11.8 If the ball strikes an umpire, unauthorised person or any loose object on the field, play continues (except as specified in the guidance to Rule 9.16).

12 Penalties.

12.1 Advantage : a penalty is awarded only when a player or team has been disadvantaged by an opponent breaking the Rules.

12.2 A free hit is awarded to the opposing team:
a for an offence by any player between the 23 metres areas
b for an offence by an attacker within the 23 metres area their opponents are defending

c for an unintentional offence by a defender outside the
circle but within the 23metres area they are defending.

12.3 A penalty corner is awarded:
a for an offence by a defender in the circle which does not prevent the probable scoring of a goal.

b for an intentional offence in the circle by a defender against an opponent who does not have possession of the ball or an opportunity to play the ball.

c for an intentional offence by a defender outside the circle but within the 23 metres area they are defending.

d for intentionally playing the ball over the back-line by a defender

Goalkeepers are permitted to deflect the ball with
their stick, protective equipment or any part of their body in any direction including over the back-line.
(This clause can be amalgamated within Rule 10)

e when the ball becomes lodged in a player’s clothing or equipment while in the circle they are defending.

12.5 If there is another offence or misconduct before the
awarded penalty has been taken:
a a more severe penalty may be awarded
b a personal penalty may be awarded
c the penalty may be reversed if the subsequent offence was committed by the team first awarded the penalty.

I am suggesting changes to twenty-five Rules – which is basically a rewrite of the Rules of Conduct of Play, Advantage and Penalties, not a modest target. As there is nothing above that I haven’t suggested many times before there is no more to add and I will begin expanding on these suggestions individually.

December 14, 2018

A rant about historical callousness.

I came across the article below, which was initially published in the Indian newspaper Firstpost, on the website on the 14th December 2008. It is a rant, and as such, it is repetitive and overlong – and it therefore reminds me of some of my own writing about the Rules of Hockey. Certainly, some of the phrases used struck a chord, those contained in the first and last sentences for example. I think there is overuse of the words ‘callous’ and ‘callousness’, other words could have been used more effectively on occasion, and the message is clear before the writer has written half of what he did, but there is no doubt about the indignation and passion felt.

I can at least break up some of my own ramblings with pictures and video examples to illustrate the points being made; even if very few readers interrupt their reading of an article to view a video (and very few people who browse YouTube videos link to articles when videos are produced just to illustrate them, which is often the case).

So here we go:-

When, just when, will the International Hockey Federation (FIH) stop peddling false information to the world at large!

The official tournament programme of the ongoing men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar is an illustration of the callous and distasteful level of indifference toward the game’s history.

India’s wins against Germany in the previous editions are not reflected in statistics published by in the programme for 2018 World Cup.

India’s wins against Germany in the previous editions are not reflected in statistics published in the official programme of the 2018 World Cup. (I assume that repettition is deliberate)

For a moment, forget what the FIH and its affiliated national associations across the world have done over the years in trashing the game’s history, the World Cup would still seem to be an elite event whose records remain sacrosanct.

Err sorry, think again.

And, please think yet again if you consider the FIH and its affiliated units as custodians of hockey’s legacy. (Perhaps a reference to the Hockey Museam?)

Even in disseminating the records of the elite World Cup tournament of the past—just 13 tournaments since the inaugural edition in 1971 —they seem to prefer fiction to fact.

“Don’t tell me they want to pass them off as official records, these guys should be fiction writers,” screamed a former Indian player who had featured in four early World Cups and even won a gold medal in 1975.

Drawing the attention of The Hockey Insider to the disinformation being passed around with FIH “Stats” as the label, the ex-Indian striker was aghast after a simple glance at India’s head-to-head World Cup records.

‘They’ve simply scratched out the victories we carved out,” said the former Indian striker who noticed something amiss when two games where he had played a role in the Indian victories over Germany did not figure in the FIH statistics published by the Official Programme of the 2018 World Cup titled “Stars Become Legends” and carrying images of lndian players Manpreet Singh and PR Sreejesh on the cover.

The startling missing facts that prompted the ex-Indian World Cup player to call Firstpost would stare any Indian hockey follower in the face. India had an unbeaten record against Germany, who played as West Germany until the 1990 edition, in the initial three World Cups: two victories and a draw.

India won 1-0 in Barcelona in 1971; drew 0-0 against the then Olympic champions at Amsterdam in 1973 and outplayed them 3-1 in 1975 at Kuala Lumpur. The India-Germany encounters at Kuala Lumpur were the stuff that lingers on in the memory of sports fans. India were leading 1-0 in their preliminary group encounter when rain disrupted the match.

Given the practice in the rain-affected 1975 World Cup —where a match was even shifted to another ground at half-time —this game was supposed to resume from that stage. But the FIH decided to replay the encounter afresh, brushing aside India’s protests. In the replayed match, which India needed to win to advance to the semi-finals, the Ajitpal Singh-led Indian team turned the form book upside down yet again to defeat the Olympic champions 3-1.

The 1978 edition in Buenos Aires saw the Germans hammer India 7-0 with the two nations playing out a 2-2 draw in London 1986.

Imagine, these matches are not part of the statistics that show just three India-Germany matches with all three confirmed as German victories. History is often misinterpreted by people wanting to twist it to their liking, but here is a case of sheer callousness.

It is not as if the FIH is an organisation incapable of actually dishing out the correct information. But, it seems, callousness about the game’s history has assumed such drastic dimensions in the FIH that they do not care about momentous events even the other day.

Thousands of matches are missing from the FIH data, simply because it seems the federation could not be bothered to look up the records or conduct research. The FIH wants the hockey fraternity to forget memorable matches and just have a tunnel vision that looks just at the elite events.

Those propounding great theories about legacy may one day find time between their coffee breaks to look up the game’s history. History, most often, is not confined to elite events. But then, the World Cup is one of hockey’s few elite competitions and here too a star player of yesteryears had to scream to draw attention to the callous mistakes.

Just scratch your memories for international matches you have seen or read about. The chances are they will not be there in the FlH’s “glorious” collection of records. Over the past two years, it has been highlighted by the hockey fraternity of South Asia that a majority of encounters that are part of the game’s epic rivalry between India and Pakistan are missing from the FIH records.

The FIH, however, does not seem to have the time and inclination to even look into the mess it has created by recognising some matches and de-recognising the others.

A few years ago, the FIH actually tried to give some semblance of sanity to the historical data that they circulate to the world.

Since then, the media and the FIH television partners are fed historical data that, politely said, is a joke. And this data is being circulated along with the television pictures.

It seems the hockey mandarins are very busy trying to sell misinformation.


My own rants include articles about the statement by the Hockey Rules Board, in the Preface to the 1997 Rules, under Rule Changes, that following the deletion of the off-side Rule, “measures would be put in place to constrain potentially dangerous actions by attacking forwards close to the goal“. These ‘measures’ did not materialise in 1998 (Why not?) and were never again referred to (Why not?). In fact the opposite has happened attackers are allowed to hit a ball from any height, including from above head height, up into the goal from any distance within the circle and any evasive action taken by defenders, far from being a signal for penalty for dangerous play by an attacker, is just ignored.

What did appear in the 1998 Rules Preface was a statement that all existing Interpretations had been incorporated into the (sic) current rule-book, including those which up until that point had been produced exclusively for FIH Umpire briefings at FIH Tournaments, and that therefore no further such documents were necessary (so presumably the publication of such documents would cease?). The current reality is that the content of the still published UMB is now regarded as superior to what is given as Rule and Interpretation (Explanation of Application) in the rule-book and there is much unnecessary contradiction between the two, which creates ambiguities; it seems the hockey mandarins are very busy trying to ‘sell’ misinformation.

In 2001, at the behest of the HRB, the FIH Executive sent a Circular to all National Hockey Associations, which declared and instructed that no person and nobody, other than the HRB could compose or amend a Rule or an Interpretation. That didn’t stop the flow of unofficial ‘interpretation’, it increased dramatically after 2004, and in 2007 that instruction was sunk without trace when the HRB deleted ‘gains benefit’ from the ball body contact Rule. A Senior Umpire Manager had a chat with a few of his friends and ‘over-ruled’ the HRB on that deletion: so “gains benefit” was applied for the following eight-year period when it was not contained in the wording of the Rule Proper or in what was called the Explanations (of Application) after 2004 – so it was not Rule. “Or gains an advantage” (a pre “benefit” wording) was restored to the rule-book in 2016, but activated in May 2015 via an Executive Circular (an amendment which the UM’s did not disregard but which umpires now seldom apply correctly, often not even considering it at all before penalising a ball-body contact – I have written that a few hundred times in the past twenty years – umpires refused to let go of “gains benefit” but at the same time did not apply it appropriately or even in some cases, at all – especially when there wasn’t any benifit gained – and that is still the case).

During this same period, very sensible advice to umpires, which was introduced in 2002 and concerned what to watch for when applying the Obstruction Rule, for example:- “standing still and shielding the ball when under pressure” and advice about a player who was dragging the ball along a line while shielding it behind his legs and feet, among others, just disappeared during the ‘wholesale vandalism’ of the rule-book in 2004, which was presented as “simplification and clarification”.The above list is by no means a comprehensive one but the FIH present a picture of highly competent and consistent umpiring that they are very happy with and which all players respect.
The outrage of the Indian Team at the umpiring of an incident in the quarter-final match of the 2018 World Cup between the Netherlands and India which resulted in a ten-minute suspension for an Indian player at a critical time of a match, which India lost 1-0, is based on an incident which does not exist. The problem with ‘Records’ is that a 7-0 drubbing is recorded in exactly the same way as a 2-1 loss, which the losing side ascribe to poor umpiring. The FIH produced video highlights of the match do not show any such incident. I have no opinion concerning it as I have not seen it. When just when, will the International Hockey Federation (FIH) stop peddling false information to the world at large!

What is amazing to me is that players rise above the incompetence of Rule makers, the indifference to the Rules of the game and the poor display of Rule application by officials, which is the result of the FIH’s casual approach to Rule writing and to conflicted umpire coaching: some of the hockey played during the 2018 World Cup was incredibly good. 

November 29, 2018

Authority and unwanted Rules


One of the simplest and clearest Rules in the rule-book is Rule 9.9. which concerns a ball raised with a hit.

9.9 Players must not intentionally raise the ball from a hit except for a shot at goal.

A raised hit must be judged explicitly on whether or not it is raised intentionally.
(a misuse of the word “explicitly”, I think what was meant was “exclusively”)

It is not an offence to raise the ball unintentionally from a hit, including a free hit, anywhere on the field unless it is dangerous. If the ball is raised over an opponent’s stick or body on the ground, even within the circle, it is permitted unless judged to be dangerous.

There are however two difficulties within the Rule requirements that need to be properly addressed if the Explanation of application is to be applied as written. The first of these arises because application depends on two subjective judgements and two objective judgements required of an umpire when the ball is raised with a hit – and then secondly, there are the exceptions to consider.

Objective decisions. 1) Was the ball hit? Yes/No 2) Was the ball raised? Yes/No Then Subjective decisions 1) Was the ball raised intentionally Yes/No 2) Was a player endangered by the raised hit? Yes/No and Finally do any of the exceptions apply – a ball raised in a controlled way (at low level and low velocity i.e. safely) over the stick of an opponent or an opponent lying on the ground? Yes/No.

The only one of these decisions that can possibly cause any pause for further consideration is the intention to raise the ball, but in the majority of cases it is perfectly clear when there is intention by the hitter – not least because the ball is raised towards an opponent who would have no difficulty at all in intercepting it if it was hit along the ground. Another indicator is the use of an edge hit in circumstances where an edge hit is not a necessary or even the best option available to propel/pass the ball, so it is probably the raising of the ball that is aimed for by the hitter.

A third, and overwhelming, difficulty is vague contradiction to the Rule that umpires receive as advice in the published FIH Umpire Briefing (for umpires officiating at FIH Tournaments) as part (there is also a verbal element) of their induction at each Tournament See below:-

 The UMB contradicts the Rule instruction to consider intent and tells an umpire to consider only danger caused if the ball is raised with a hit.

Why should the UMB be considered advice and not Rule? It’s a matter of common sense. An umpire cannot be obliged by Rule to have and use common sense and the inclusion of “Use common sense and show understanding of the play” in the UMB must therefore make it advice and not Rule. Moreover advice is not ‘lumped’ together with Rule as if they were both the same thing – and the UMB has a lot of similar advice – it even advises umpires to enjoy themselves, something that is clearly not subject to Rule.

The UMB is therefore not Rule and should not be regarded or used as if Rule – but unfortunately, parts of it are. Why is this unfortunate? Because much of the UMB is contrary to common sense, as it actually conflicts in places with what is given in the FIH published Rules of Hockey – as the above “blow only in dangerous situations everywhere on the pitch – forget lifted, think danger” does. Why do umpires follow the UMB in preference to the Rule? Because the individual Umpire Manager who gives an umpire additional verbal briefing, based on the published UMB (or not), about expected performance at the start of a tournament is going to write a report on the umpire’s performance and that report will have a bearing on his or her future appointments and the chance of promotion within the ranks of umpires – so the reason is self interest.

By-the-by in 1998 It was announced in the Preface of the Rules of Hockey that the (sic) new format of the rule-book included all the material which had previously been contained in umpire briefings – and so in future separate briefing papers would no longer be required. The fight continues, about a year ago I was informed by an FIH official who was replying to me (an official who is no longer with the FIH) that I was in a minority of one in wanting the separately published UMB discontinued – so in other words something that had Executive approval was not long afterwards completely disavowed by administrators despite never have been formally revoked by the FIH.

That the UMB is used in place of the Rules of Hockey is all the more bizarre because the FIH Execuitve have made it perfectly clear that no body – no other person, no other official, no group or committee, other than the FIH Rules Committee, make Rule, can amend Rule or provide Rule Interpretation. The FIH Rules Committee cannot be overruled in matters of Rule and Rule Interpretation – not even by the FIH Umpiring Committee. The only way forward when change is required is to persuade the FIH Rules Committee to amend the Rules where this is considered appropriate. In the meantime however umpires go their own way and do their ‘own thing’.

The words “forget lifted, think danger’ in the first clause of the UMB page above are a case in point when discussing conflict. The Rule is absolutely clear about judging a ball raised with hit as an offence based explicitly (exclusively) on an intent to raise the ball , not on whether or not endangerment (a separate offence) is caused because the ball has been raised with a hit. It is absolutely wrong to permit a player to intentionally raise the ball with a hit, to the disadvantage of opponents and to do so without penalty. That opponents are endangered by an illegally raised ball is a second, related but separate issue. An umpire cannot properly apply the Rule and at the same time ‘forget’ lifted (it’s  very conflicted advice because the essential element, intent, is not mentioned at all.)

It is clear from the wording of the Explanation of application of the Rule that accidental raising of the ball with a hit is not an offence unless endangerment is caused. The UMB therefore effectively advises umpires to regard all raised hits as accidental – and to look only for dangerous play when a ball is raised with a hit,  ignoring any intent to raise the ball; an obvious nonsense given the wording of the Rule – and a very unfair nonsense. The exception to the Rule, accidentally raising the ball with a hit not being an offence, has replaced the Rule and intention to do so is simply disregarded.

The umpire in the following incident made a horrible blunder in not penalising the clearly intentional raising of the ball with a hit past the two IND defenders (to their disadvantage) and allowing the AUS team to score a goal as a result of this planned tactic. Comment elsewhere has pointed to the possible disappointment of the spectators if such a spectacular ‘goal’ had been disallowed. I think more about  deliberate cheating and the certain dismay of the Indian players that it was awarded (and it was the only goal of the match).

In the above video not only the match commentator (but a former FIH Umpire, Keely Dunn – who posted and commentated on the above video) are wrong in considering this foul play to be “superb” or “magnificent” (the language they used), an intentional and planned contravention of Rule, which this action obviously was, should never be so described. A deliberate offence is cheating and foul play no matter how well executed.

In the video below the pass from near the half-way line was wrongly praised as “great skill” by the match commentator. Yes, it was made with excellent weight and direction and caused no danger, but it was made in an illegal way and to the disadvantage of opponents, it should have been penalised under current Rule (the same pass could in any case have been made in a legal way with a scoop stroke) There is no point in having Rules to control specific actions if these Rules are ignored.

The intentionally raised edge hit into the circle in the following video is similar to the play seen in the first one above, the only real difference is the distance involved. This too resulted in the award of a goal when it should not have done. The umpires caught themselves in a consistency trap by the failure to penalise the first raised edge hit, which a defender used to clear the ball over a side-line. That clearance (which also looks to me, because of the evasive action taken, to have been dangerous play) should have resulted in the award of a penalty corner.

Do we want or need intentionally raised hits that are not shots at the goal to be penalised? No obviously not, not unless they are also dangerous play, but that is not how the Rule is presented or how it should be applied. It’s a rotten Rule which was put in place in the late 1980’s to prevent hits that at the time had become popular, because of the introduction of the ultra stiff carbon-fibre reinforced stick, which facilitated, in expert hands, a clip or chip from one end of the pitch to the other. The reason given at the time for banning such hitting was because it led to boring play rather than the real (possibly seen as ‘wimpy’) reason, which was that it was dangerous or potentially dangerous play.

In not so expert hands attempts to emulate the high and long chip hits of the experts (including the taking of shots at the goal) became extremely dangerous and the long and high chip/clip hit had to be banned before someone was killed – but a better way to achieve such a ban could have been employed, for example an absolute height limit on any raised hit which was not a shot at the goal (it’s apparently still okay to put at risk of death players who are defending a goal, but that’s another story)- and the then extant prohibition on raising the ball into the circle (with any stroke), irrespective of intent to do so, should have remained in place. It was instead ‘lost’ to deletion because it was not considered necessary. When there was a ban on intentional raising of the ball with a hit unless taking a shot at the opponent’s goal from within their circle, the ball could not be raised with a hit into the circle, could it?- How wrong that supposition turned out to be.

Would restoring the ban on any raising of the ball into the opponent’s circle with a hit (and perhaps a height limit on other strokes and deflections) lead to fairer umpiring? It should do. It should at least lead to more consistent umpiring. Few umpires confuse raised with not raised, but most are apparently (and unsurprisingly, given they are effectively told to ignore it) very poor at determining intent.


Dangerous play.

The other part of the Explanation of Rule 9.9 does not explain anything that is actually written in the Rule Proper (which is only about an intentionally raised hit). This is the instruction concerning the raising of a ball towards another player within 5m with a flick or a scoop.

Players are permitted to raise the ball with a flick or scoop provided it is not dangerous. A flick or scoop towards an opponent within 5 metres IS considered dangerous.(my upper case bold)

That inserted statement is properly part of the Rule concerning a dangerously played ball, Rule 9.8. This clause concerning the raising of the ball towards a close opponent is however generally ignored (ignoring danger caused by raising the ball into an opponent- is contrary to the advice given in the UMB as well as in the Rules), with the result that Rule 9.11 – ball body contact – is very badly applied. Players are ‘winning’ penalty corners instead of being penalised for contravention of the Explanation of Application given in Rule 9.9: the ‘Rule clause’ under which the forcing of an unintentional contact from an opponent by raising the ball into that opponent should be dealt with (The deletion of the Forcing Rule but leaving the offnce in place to be “dealt with bu other Rules” is another bizarre story).

The following Explanation clause  appears to be random repetition of a clause from the Rules of the Penalty Corner. I cannot explain the reference to a shot or why this clause is repeated in the Explanation to Rule 9.9 at all. It almost goes without saying that it is poorly applied, the words “without attempting to play the ball with their stick” being generally ignored.

If an opponent is clearly running into the shot or into the attacker without attempting to play the ball with their stick, they should be penalised for dangerous play.

It does not matter at all what the Rules are if umpires (or their coaches) decide not to apply them – which they often do even though they have no authority whatsoever to pick and choose which Rules or bits of Rules to apply as given in the rule-book, and which to subvert. Rule 9.9 is clearly a mess which needs sorting out with a rewrite by the FIH Rules Committee, but then Rules 9.8,  9.10, 9.11 and 9.12 are also urgently in need of rewrites not least, but not entirely, because of the mess umpires have made of their ‘accepted’ application of them.


It is only the FIH Rules Committee that can introduce new Rule or amend existing Rule or Interpretation. The FIH Executive issued a Circular to National Associations in 2001 that made that perfectly clear. The wording of that Executive Circular could usefully have been added to the preamble in the Preface of the Rules of Hockey under the title Authority, just as the emphasis on safety (ha ha) is included each year under Responsibility and Liability. In that Circular it was stated that no other person or official or body (committee) has authority to amend the Rules or the Interpretation of the Rules. The opinion of umpires seems to be entirely the other way about. As part of an exchange of views on Facebook following comment about umpire briefings (the UMB) posted with the first video shown above, I received this in reply.

Michael Margolien Briefing obviously overrides rules.

Think of it as an executive decision overriding a law (a rule) which is a more complicated and longer process (the rule change is). Hockey develops in a certain way (and international especially) and this is the way it is umpired.

He could not be more wrong, umpires and even umpire managers are not the FIH Executive (and even the FIH Executive cannot unilaterally introduce or amend a Rule – it approves such changes made by the FIH Rule Committee – who are also unable to unilaterally impose new Rule).

It only takes a few minutes considering the consequences of the above statement by Michael Margolien  to realize that it is a path to chaos – and it is anarchy. (Changes to ‘umpiring practice’ in regard to Rule application, made via umpire briefings, are in large part responsible for confusion about the Rules and the perception, which is inaccurate, that “The FIH are always (unnecessarily) changing the Rules“).

Umpire Briefings do not override the Rules of Hockey, that is an impossibility. Umpire Managers and Umpire Coaches cannot make short term or immediate changes to Rules or Interpretations according to the way the game is being played (has developed) and then expect or demand that the FIH Rules Committee ‘catch up’ with ‘their Rule’ at a later date. That is ‘cart before the horse’ as well as acting without authority. It is in fact allowing hockey coaches to determine the Rules of Hockey – each nation trying to do so to their own advantage

(I am reminded that edge hitting was ‘legal’ in Argentina for several years before it became so in the rest of the world and that the focus on speed and fitness in Australian hockey led to the Australian HA pressing hard for the introduction of squads of sixteen and rolling substitutions (this has lately been extended by breaking matches into four period of 15 minutes rather than two of 35 minutes). Edge hitting and a game of four quarters might now be considered to be good things, although I am not happy to see shorter more ‘frantic’ matches and I feel that playing time should have been increased to 80 mins (4 x 20) to reflect the influence and advantage of three breaks in play, and rolling substitutions and larger squad sizes. The changes are not balanced, they are all in one direction. Hockey is being ‘packaged’ like confectionery. Year on year the portion given is reduced and the price (our annoyance at changes) increases. The current ignoring of the Obstruction Rule and the increase of physical contact in play and several other aspects of ‘modern’ hockey may not be regarded as improvements in the longer term and I certainly do not want to see the FIH RC changing these Rules to reflect how International Level umpires (especially in Europe, Australia and the Americas) are currently interpreting them (with the Asian teams being dragged reluctantly along the same path)

The Royal Dutch Hockey Board are as I write, instructing umpires that legitimate evasive action does not apply to a defender defending the goal while positioned on the goal-line during a penalty corner. That instruction has been brought to the attention of the FIH Rules Committee. I am interested to see how they are going to react to this invention by the KNHB. (As I review this article, three years later in 2021, they have done nothing at all to correct the KNHB)

Umpire briefings must follow the extant Rules, not attempt to lead them. The ultimate authority, Congress, who appoint the FIH Executive, decides how the game will be played. The FIH Executive in turn appoints a Rules Committee which is given sole authority to issue Rules and the Interpretations of those Rules – which the Executive must then approve before they become official – so that the game is played in the way desired by Congress. What is not clear is exactly how much influence Congress actually exert in the drafting of new Rule or how they do so. A Congressional Inquiry into the Rules of Hockey might provide a way forward.

Umpires (unless they lobby the FIH RC as individuals or via their National Associations) have no direct part in making Rules or Interpretations of (the wording of) Rules while umpiring (despite what the Australian Umpire Coach Jan Hadfield might think). Their task while umpiring is to apply the Rules as instructed by the FIH Rules Committee. (so with the assistance of the FIH Umpiring Committeewho are said to liaise with the FIH Rules Committee – they interpret player actions during a match for compliance with the wording of published Rules and Interpretations). If umpires don’t understand how a Rule should be Interpreted then they need to ask (probably via their National Association) the FIH Rules Committee to issue clarification; these days that can be done fairly quickly. Rule clarification from authority cannot be only the personal opinion of a TD or UM , issued on an ad hoc basis just prior to or during a Tournament, especially when that opinion conflicts with FIH RC instruction (For example the bizarre invention, which appeared during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that an ‘on target’ shot at the goal could not be considered to be dangerous play or the equally absurd declaration in a video briefing prior to Rio 2016 that defenders on the goal-line cannot expect the protection of the Rules – which presumably means the Rules concerning the dangerously played ball).  Nor can it be instruction issued solely by any National Umpiring Association, none of these individuals or bodies have this authority.

We sometimes hear of the FIH fining or threatening to fine a National Hockey Association if they fail to turn up to participate in an FIH Tournament – and the fines are heavy. It would I think be a good idea if the FIH similarly fined National Associations who invent amendments to the Rules of Hockey and allow them to be applied without first seeking and obtaining the approval of the FIH Executive via the FIH Rules Committee.

July 25, 2018



Ball body contact. Forcing

World Cup Final 2014. A sports commentator at an outdoor match, perhaps misguided by the notion that if an FIH Umpire applies or fails to apply a Rule in a certain way (using ‘common practice’) then that way must be correct, causes confusion among viewers by lauding a foul by a NED player as if it was a proper and desirable skill, shortly after ‘drilling’ was introduced as an offence in the indoor game.

Below is what the FIH Rules Committee wrote under the heading ‘Rule Changes’ in 2011 in the Rules of Hockey – when ‘forcing’ was deleted as a stand alone offence.

The changes in this edition of the Rules essentially seek to simplify the game without altering its fundamental characteristics.

The Rule which used to say that “players must not force an opponent into offending unintentionally” is deleted because any action of this sort can be dealt with under other Rules. (my bold italic)

(My apologies that above statements, which remain extant, are more than a year ‘old’ and were given in writing in a previous rule-book – and are therefore ‘black and white’ and ‘ancient history’ – unlike the ‘latest interpretations’, stories of unknown origin, which are passed on by word of mouth – it is difficult to think of a more inaccurate form of communication – or on the Internet, possibly the worse form of cascade because much of it is not attributable and certainly not official opinion).

If an illegal playing action results in penalty in the opposite direction to that which it did (or should have) previously, then there has been a fundamental change to the way in which the game is officiated and therefore played i.e a change in its characteristics. Forcing contact was (and remains) an offence, raising the ball into a player from close range is an offence, playing the ball along the ground (with modest force) into an opponent’s foot has never been considered any offence except a forcing offence. So what is the umpire to do? It is obvious that the statement  because any action of this sort can be dealt with under other Rules is untrue and a case of the Rules Committee not knowing their own Rules, so the grounds for the deletion because..etc..were a nonsense.
There is no mention at all of forcing in the current rule-book, so even the instruction, issued in 2011, that forcing should, where appropriate, be penalised using other Rules is not there to inform today’s umpires, as of course it should be.

However, the aim of simplification was achieved; it is simple to always penalise, no matter what the circumstances, a player who makes a ball-body contact: this is what is happening and it is simple-minded. It does not require though or judgement. “Did the ball hit a foot?” is an objective criterion not a subjective one and nor does it comply with the intent of the Rule, which is to ignore when irrelevant (which is usual) most ball-body contact.

In these incidents from the Rio Olympics (video below) the umpire (after consultation with his college !!!) awarded a second penalty corner (the first having been correctly awarded) because from the shot made from the first penalty corner the ball touched the foot of the goal-line defender (a foot which was sticking out wide of the post) on its way out of play. The shot from the second penalty corner made in the same way as the first also glanced off the defender’s foot in the same position and went out of play- so yet another, a third, penalty corner was awarded. So two penalty corners were awarded, here in direct conflict with instruction given in the Explanation of Rule Application. Such umpiring makes one wonder if these umpires have actually read the Explanation of Application provided with Rule 9.11. They took the time to consult with each other after the first foot contact and still got the decision wrong.

Back to Forcing.

The words “any action of this sort can be dealt with under other Rules” can only mean in the context, that any forcing action can and should be penalised using other Rules already in place at the time. But by 2014 ‘the interpretation’ (‘practice’) was the opposite, it was always the player forced to ball-body contact who was penalised.

In fact this was also the case prior to 2011, when the forcing (of ball-body contact in particular) was still clearly an offence, by the player doing the forcing. So, as far as umpires were concerned, there was no fundamental change in 2011, when the offence of forcing was deleted, they just kept doing what they had ‘always’ done and misapplied the ball-body contact Rule – often when the forcing action was also clearly dangerous play (a breach of the Explanation of application given with Rule 9.9 because the ball was raised).

At one time (1992) ‘what umpires had always done’ i.e ignored the written Rule or ‘interpreted’ it in a bizarre way (in a way opposite to the way it was intended to be applied) so infuriated the Rules Committee (at the time called the FIH Hockey Rules Board) that the criteria for a ball-body offence was changed to – both deliberately using the body to stop or deflect the ball and the gaining of an advantage (that change to Guidance lasted until 1998).

The 1992 change to the criteria for a ball-body contact offence made no difference whatsoever to the way umpires applied the Rule, they just continued doing exactly as they had done prior to 1992, when the two criteria were – intentional use of the body or a gain of advantage (and they umpired as if any ball body contact always gave an advantage to the player hit with the ball, which was what led to the change made in 1992. That ‘penalise all’ approach to ball-body contact is familiar to us now, in 2022, although still contrary to the Explanation of Application given with the Rule since 2004 and even to the change made in May of 2015).

(‘Gaining a benefit’ was deleted from Rule 9.11 in Jan 2007 – without making any difference at all to umpiring practice, and only reinstated via FIH Executive Circular, as ‘gains an advantage’, in May of 2015, so we have fairly recently completed yet another cycle of the ball-body contact ‘no change to umpiring practice’ merry-go-round.

The most recent development in the forcing and ball-body contact saga has been the introduction (2017) of a ‘drilling’ dangerous play offence in indoor hockey (dangerous forcing using high ball velocity combined with a pivot/spin with the ball from a shielding position – see first video above)- but with no counterpart in the outdoor game – despite a declaration from the FIH that the Rules for the two games will be kept ‘in sync’ as far as is possible. Why this Rule has not been incorporated into the outdoor Rules is a mystery – it’s certainly possible to do it – even desirable. .

The action of the NED player in the first video is a ‘shield, spin and drill’ and the defender had very little chance of avoiding the ball-body contact the attacker intended would result. I can’t see what advantage the defending team gained from the ball-leg contact, so I don’t know why the defender was penalised. The match commentators had no doubt that the forcing of the contact was carried out deliberately, they just had no idea that such forcing is supposed to be penalised (as any forcing may be) under “other Rules” – that is no surprise, this action has never been penalised as it should be and obstruction (illegal ball shielding) has been forgotten about.

‘Drilling’ following a spin-turn from a ball shielding position developed because ball shielding (obstruction) has not been penalised as it should be since around 1994. Here is an example. The obstructed player looks in astonishment at the umpire, as as well he might, when the following forced contact (illegal at the time the match was played in 2010) resulted in his being penalised for ball-foot contact.

The following video shows an attacker deliberately raising the ball into the legs of a defender from within 1m; the ball then deflecting off the defender to the advantage of the attacker (so the defender could not possibly have gained an advantage because the attacker did, the ball-leg contact was clearly not intended by the defender, so according to the Rules of Hockey the defender did not commit an offence). The attacker declined to play on even though he could easily have done so, the umpire (automatically) awarded a penalty corner.

Dangerous play. Forcing.

Dangerous play arising from a dangerously played ball, has not been penalised as it should be since around 2002 (following the publication of ‘The Lifted Ball’ an umpire coaching document, produced in the previous year). There followed in 2004 a number of Rule deletions and amendments which eventually led to the ‘on target shot’ nonsense which surfaced at the Beijing Olympics.

A blatant example (below) of deliberate forcing by an attacker who preferred to ‘win’ a penalty corner rather than attempt to shoot at the goal even though he was in the circle and goal-side of the defender he fouled. This was combined with what is technically dangerous play (the ball propelled at low velocity so unlikely to cause injury, but contrary to Rule 9.9 as it hit the defender, from within 5m – and also at at above knee height – but that latter point is not a criteria for the offence – the Explanation of Application of Rule 9.9. mentions only the raising of the ball towards an opponent, it does not stipulate a minimum height). Penalty corner awarded.


Here below is another blatant example from the 2014 World Cup Final.

The umpire was positioned directly behind the player who was hit with the ball and could have had no idea how high it was raised (it hit the defender on his thigh) but he waved away protest from the NED players. He should however have been aware that the AUS player charged bodily into the NED defender following raising the ball into him, to deny him opportunity to control the ball, obviously a physical contact offence. Why the NED players did not go to video referral I don’t know; bitter experience perhaps, but the goal scored against them from the corner must have been more bitter to swallow. What was laughable about this incident was the amount of trouble the umpire went to to ensure that the ball was placed on the base-line during the penalty corner  before it was inserted. Very close to the line was not good enough: an insistence on technical Rule compliance which was at odds with the seriousness of the deliberate dangerous play/forcing Conduct of Play offence he rewarded the AUS team for. The match commentators saw nothing untoward about the AUS player’s forcing action, the physical contact or the award of a penalty corner against the NED team; they expected the award of the penalty corner the AUS player went ‘looking for’ because there was a ball-body contact. Rule ignorance seems to be obligatory for television match commentators.

Rule 9.9. Explanation of application. Players are permitted to raise the ball with a flick or scoop provided it is not dangerous. A flick or scoop towards an opponent within 5 metres is considered dangerous.

There is a lot of confusion between the above Explanation and the Explanation of application given with Rule 13.3.l. which is about a first shot at the goal during a penalty corner:-

if a defender is within five metres of the first shot at goal during the taking of a penalty corner and is struck by the ball below the knee, another penalty corner must be awarded or is struck on or above the knee in a normal stance, the shot is judged to be dangerous and a free hit must be awarded to the defending team.

In open play, which is subject to Rule 9.9 but not Rule 13.3.l. a ball may not be raised towards (at, into) an opponent within 5m – I repeat there is no minimum height given for that to be a dangerous play offence. The Umpire Mangers’ Briefing (which is not the Rules of Hockey) states that a ball raised into an opponent, in a controlled way, at below half shin-pad height (20cms?) is not dangerous (this statement conflicts with what is given in Rule 9.9 – such conflicts should not happen because they are, despite any liaison between FIH Committees, an unauthorized amendment to written Interpretation – this might be overcome by having FIH Executive approval the contents of the UMB – I would however prefer to see the discontinuation of a published UMB in line with the declaration made in the 2002 rule-book that documents other than the rule-book should be unnecessary for the instruction of umpires). The UMB, while stating what is not dangerous play, is careful to avoid stating what IS dangerous play.

General practice is to (sometimes) penalise for dangerous play only if the ball is raised into an opponent at or above knee height, but there is no Rule support whatsoever for this practice in open play. In the incident shown in the video below the video umpire based her recommendation for a free ball to the AUS team on the ball being played into the AUS defender at knee height. The match commentators were sure a penalty corner would be awarded – so the Rule knowledge of the video umpire was marginally better than that of the commentators, but not correct. There can be no doubt that had the ball been raised into the defender’s shin, rather than into her knee, a penalty corner would have been recommended by the video umpire.

Change. ‘Gains benefit’.

The fundamental characteristics of hockey have been dramatically changed in the last twenty years because of changes to the application of the Rules without there being corresponding changes to the Rules. Some, but very few, of the changes that were made to the Rules have resulted in betterment of the game, however, if applied correctly, many more of them would have done (and fewer changes would have been made necessary). The self-pass is a good example of an opportunity missed, caused first by bizarre umpire ‘interpretations’ (for example,  allowed direction of retreat by opponents) and then by the introduction of unnecessary Rules in relation to it (for example, required moving of the ball 5m before playing it into the circle, which was compelled as a result of the unnecessary Rule that a free ball awarded in the opponent’s 23m area may not be played directly into the circle)

The prohibition on an intentionally raised hit is an example of an unnecessary Rule which led to a need to introduce more Rules and also to the UMB ‘interpretation’ “forget lifted” to circumvent it (why not instead clarify the dangerously played ball Rule by adding objective criteria?)

The ‘gains benefit’ saga is a prime example of an official FIH Rules Committee Rule change being prevented in a way that was without any authority whatsoever.

Due to the ‘generally accepted’ way of applying ‘gains benefit’ prior to 2007, mentioned above, the FIH Rules Committee deleted that criteria for a ball-body contact offence in the Rules of Hockey issued in January 2007 (an opposite approach to the one they took in 1992). In February 2007 Peter von Reth authored an ‘Official Interpretation’ on the FIH website in which he explained (without offering a rational explanation) that he and the Chairman of the FIH Rules Committee and a couple of unnamed others had agreed to the reinstatement of the ‘gains benefit’ clause and it would continue to be applied as it had been applied in 2006.

Here is the explanation for the reversion that was offered:-

The 2005/6 Rules indicated that it was not an offence if the ball hits the foot, hand or body of a field player unless that player or their team benefits from this. However, as with other rules, this continues to be an offence if benefit is gained. Rule 9.11 should therefore continue to be applied taking into account any benefit gained by the player or their team.


 That statement is irrational (and an insult to the intelligence of participants).  Because “unless that player or their team benefits from this” means exactly the same as “if benefit is gained” (the bolding of the word ‘is’ was not explained by the bolding of it), so the entire explanation offered is contained in the words “However” and “Therefore” and justified by “general discussion” and the unspecified feedback apparently received from various parties and a few unidentified National Associations – and given after the change to the Explanation of Rule 9.11. was made public, only three weeks before the above reversal was published. In other words there was (despite the title given to the announcement article) no official explanation or justification (indeed no justification of any sort). In passing it should be noted in relation to (“However, as with other rules, this continues to be an offence if benefit is gained“) that there was and is no Rule, other than ball-body contact, in which ‘benefit gained’ was/is used to determine offence and never has been.

The previous long-term disquiet about the way the Rule was being applied under the 2005/6 Rules of Hockey and those of previous years – the reason for the deletion of ‘gains benefit’ (active from January 2007) made by the FIH Rules Committee , after the usual consultations with all parties when a change is to be proposed to the FIH Executive, had taken place and Executive approval received, was just brushed aside within a month.

The ‘gains benefit’ clause was flawed because it could be used as a blanket ‘catch all’ when badly applied, but it should not have been deleted in its entirety, it should instead have been amended to make it both fair and workable. The deletion was extreme and we were then just forced back to acceptance of a previous extreme, one which had just been deleted by the HRB because ‘gains benefit was generally misapplied – all contact being seen as a gain of benefit.

This type of pendulum swing between extremes is common even in official Rule amendment, we went for example, from pitch length chip hits to a total ban on all intentionally raised hits, except hits made as a shot at the goal – this unrestricted exception being a sick joke if player safety was supposed to be the aim of the change, which banned intentional raising of the ball with a hit. A joke because intentionally raised hits were (and still are) most frequently made as a shot at the goal. The whole thing could have been dealt with by a height limit on any ball raised with a hit – and refined with another limit placed on any ball raised at an opponent with any stroke, even when taking a shot at the goal (and still can be). It is necessary I believe to retain the height limit on the first hit shot at goal made during a penalty corner. There is no reason to height limit any other shot made at the goal that is not made directly at another player, but there are very good reasons to height limit any ball raised directly at another player.


The Advantage Rule, which declares that there is no need to penalise an offence if no advantage is gained by the offending team (opponents are not disadvantaged by the offence) is not the same as the gains advantage statement in Rule 9.11. which in fact converts a ball body contact, that is not an offence, into an offence if benefit is gained by the team of the player hit with the ball. The difference between the Advantage Rule (12.2) and the ‘gains advantage’ clause in the explanation of Rule 9.11 is unnoticed by many umpires and thus advantage is commonly misapplied.


There are still a number of ‘loopy’ Rules in place (as dangerous or nonsensical as the now deleted ‘Own goal’ ) but the biggest danger to players and the future of the game is ‘interpretation’ and ‘common practice’ (umpires on their own or following instruction by their coaches, ‘overruling’ or ignoring the Rules provided by the FIH Rules Committee). It is for example forbidden to make a shot at the goal in a dangerous way (a way that endangers another player – recently and inadvisably  changed to “an opposing player”) during a penalty corner (and by commonsense extension, at any other time during a game) but one would never know that by watching the playing of any hockey match.

Other examples of ‘practice’, are seen in the above videos from some of the most senior umpires in the world – i.e. personal opinion – formed and derived from direction and coaching – that bears no resemblance to the meaning of the wording given in and with the FIH Rules of Hockey. In other words umpires are interpreting words (very badly) instead of interpreting player actions in relation to well understood instructions contained in the Rules of Hockey. Where instruction is not commonly well understood then the issues need to be addressed to the FIH Rules Committee – not subverted in personal ‘interpretations’.

Players, who are required to be aware of the Rules of Hockey and play according to them, have no chance of doing so with the ‘interpretations’ shown above (and I have not mentioned at all the edge-hit ‘clearance’ or the high ‘cross’ into the circle with either the edge-hit or an undercut forehand hit). Players who deliberately breach the Rules, are coached to flout them, get away with doing so because what they are doing has illegally or unconstitutionally become ‘accepted’ and ‘common practice’ within our umpiring culture (penalise a raised hit only if it is dangerous, but see no danger – or disadvantage to opponents – that occurs)  – is a meme of hockey.

March 8, 2018

Why did this happen.


How did this happen….



all but the last two obstructive incidents were ignored by the umpires and even then, the penultimate one was revered on video referral after the silly award of a penalty stroke and the other, the last, was only penalised after several seconds, when a second opponent was obstructed in the same way as the first one continued to be. The penalty given was a penalty corner and not the penalty stroke that should have been awarded.

…. from this?

9.12 Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play the ball. (The Rule, aside from the clauses relating to third party and the clause ‘physically interfering with the stick or body of an opponent’ , assumes possession of the ball)

Players obstruct if they :

back into an opponent

physically interfere with the stick or body of an opponent

shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body.

A stationary player receiving the ball is permitted to face in any direction.

A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction EXCEPT bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it. (my bold and upper case).

(I have not here included the clauses that describe third party obstruction)


Restating the last clause above in its parts and in the prohibitive format previously used.

A player in possession of the ball is not permitted to:-

move bodily into an opponent

move into a position between the ball and an opponent who is attempting to play at the ball.

The clauses ……

Players obstruct if they:-

back into an opponent (back into the playing reach of an opponent – not into contact with because that action is separately listed)

physically interfere with the stick or body of an opponent. (includes interfering with a stick by a stick) 

move bodily into an opponent (physical contact)

…….do not require that an opponent (a tackler) be attempting to play at the ball at the time of the given action. This is reasonable because backing into the playing reach of an opponent (forcing retreat to avoid physical contact) or physical contact/interference by a ball holder with an opponent who is trying to position to tackle could make a tackle attempt impossible or make an attempt to tackle unfairly difficult.


The complete list:-

Players obstruct if they:-

move bodily into an opponent

physically interfere with the stick or body of an opponent.

back into an opponent

move into a position between the ball and an opponent who is attempting to play at the ball.

(that is ball shielding to prevent a tackle attempt without there being any form of physical contact).

The unsatisfactory answers to How? and Why? are “Interpretation” and “The acceptance of this interpretation”.

But where do these interpretations come from? That appears to be anybodies guess.

I can’t see any reason that the interpretations of the actions seen in the video clips (that ‘saw’ nearly all of them as legitimate play) should be accepted by anybody, because such interpretation is clearly contrary (provided word meanings remain consistent) to what is given in Rule 9.12 Obstruction.

Are word meanings reasonably consistent? Is it likely (probable) that A player shall not move bodily into an opponent has several meanings in this time and place and one of them is that players are permitted to move bodily into an opponent – and, irrationally, that is the one used in hockey? If this is so we can despair of ever having a written Rules of Hockey that is adhered to.

It must however be acknowledged that for many years, from 1993 to 2004 for example, we had a provided interpretation in the back of the rule-book that could not be adhered to. That it was written by someone who did not understand how hockey is played is evident from the fact that he wrote it as he did. It contained the same kind of impossible conditions and contradictions that ‘The Lifted Ball’, an umpire coaching document by the same author, contained. Here is part of it:-

The Moving Player

The variations in this instance are many but the principles are:

∙ the onus is on the tackler to be in, and if necessary move to, a position from which a legitimate tackle can be made. Once in the correct position the following conditions must also be satisfied before obstruction can occur.

∙ there must be an intention to make a tackle. in essence the tackler must be attempting to move the stick towards the ball.

∙ the timing of the tackle must be precise because, until the tackler is in a tackling position and intending to make the tackle, the player with the ball may move off with the ball in any direction (except bodily into the tackler).

This interpretation of obstruction allows players to receive a ball, play or pass it in any direction, and only to be penalised if obstruction takes place at the time a properly placed tackler tries to make the tackle.

However, umpires should note certain forms of obstruction which are often incorrectly overlooked. In particular, preventing a legitimate tackle by intentionally shielding the ball with the body or leg is obstruction.

Stick obstruction and interference is prohibited; no player may strike at or interfere with an opponent’s stick. The player with the ball may not use the stick to shield or protect the ball from a legitimate tackle.

To be fair, the above interpretation was written about the exemption from the Obstruction Rule of a player who was in the act of receiving the ball, and it was not intended as an interpretation of obstruction at all (which remained exactly as it had before 1993. What constituted an obstructive action, the criteria for obstruction, continued to be exactly as it had been previously) but as an explanation of an exception to the Obstruction Rule, vis-a-vis tackling, when the ball was being received by a player: the dramatic change the author sat down to write about and mistakenly called a new interpretation.

This ‘new interpretation’ was very quickly being applied to a player who was already in controlled possession of the ball – not at all what was intended to be taken from what was written in the first four paragraphs above – and this mistake became universal as it was copied and ‘cascaded’.

Why there was differentiation made between a stationary receiving player and a moving receiving player, I can’t even guess. A more sensible differentiation could and should have been made between a player already  in controlled possession of the ball and a player receiving the ball – moving or stationary. The stationary/moving divide only confused participants further because there is in fact no difference in the application of the Obstruction Rule between them.

The part about a player already in controlled possession of the ball begins at paragraph five with “However, umpires should note certain forms of obstruction which are often incorrectly overlooked. In particular, preventing a legitimate tackle by intentionally shielding the ball with the body or leg is obstruction.and that paragraph is all the attention body obstruction by a player in possession of the ball (the most frequently contravention) gets in “the new interpretation” – and it is mistaken, bringing into consideration for the first time an intention to illegally shield the ball from an opponent, which has never been a consideration. Shielding the ball can be obstruction, but as an obstruction offence must be forced by an attempt by a tackler to play at the ball, intent to obstruct is irrelevant if there is obstruction.

In 2001 the words in the first paragraph “and if necessarywere deleted (I don’t know for certain why, there was no explanation offered at the time, but the cynic in me can make a guess). The 1993 ‘interpretation’ otherwise remained, as presented in part above, until the rule-book was re-formatted and rewritten in 2004 – when it was deleted. Hockey coaches and umpires in the meantime (and since, despite its deletion) have used this ‘interpretation’ to destroy the game by coaching and applying it inappropriately.

In 2009  the Explanation of Application clause to the rewritten Rule, A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent., was extended, to read:-

A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it.

But this damage limitation attempt, the last amendment made to the Obstruction Rule by the FIH Hockey Rules Board, was too little too late (the penalising of obstruction had practically vanished by then) and most umpires today seem to be unaware of it – never mind to be applying it. This is generally because they are still applying the interpretation of ‘attempting to play at the ball’, extent up until 2003 (which was as explained above originally intended to be applied to a player attempting to tackle an opponent who was in the act of receiving the ball  – the ‘interpretation’ came instead to be about the positioning of a tackler and not about a player committing an obstruction offence). This ‘interpretation’ (which included the pre-2004 version) was handed down by word of mouth from older umpires to those taking their places with all the personal opinion, inconsistency, variation and mistake such a method of communication enjoys.

The only mention, following the 2004 deletion and rewrite, the revolutionary exception of 1993 gets in the 2009 (and the current) Obstruction Rule, is a statement that a stationary player receiving the ball is permitted to be facing in any direction. How’s that for clarification? The current, mistaken, view, ‘interpretation’ coming from that statement, is that a player in possession of the ball may at any time be standing facing in any direction regardless of the positioning of opponents and the position of the ball; not at all what the Rule now stipulates and not what was intended in 1993.

The story of the ‘development’ of the interpretation of the Obstruction Rule is one of a losing battle, beginning I think with the idea that a stationary player in possession of the ball could not obstruct, even if facing his or her own goal and within the playing reach of opponents who were intent on playing at the ball which came from this:-


This note describes two primary playing circumstances: the stationary player and the moving player.

The principles are :

The Stationary Player
∙ the receiving, stationary, player may be facing in any direction
∙ the onus is on the tackler to move into position, for example usually to move round the receiver to attempt a legitimate tackle

No tackler with any common sense is going to try to tackle by moving around a stationary opponent in possession of the ball – the ball holder will of course just turn away in the opposite direction and into the space just vacated by his or her opponent. This interpretation just set up a situation where a single tackler could not tackle a competent player who had possession of the ball and who was prepared to shield it and wait for a tackle attempt or for team support (it slowed the game and ‘holding’ the ball in the corner of the pitch or against a base-line or side-line became a common tactic). The above Interpretation was deleted in 2004. Only this fragment of it remains in current Rule.

a stationary player receiving the ball is permitted to be facing in any direction    (this does not state that a player in possession of the ball is permitted to be facing in any direction when an opponent is attempting to play at the ball)

Cris Maloney an American umpire coach is currently coaching what he says FIH Umpires are doing, that is going beyond the above ‘stationary player’ statement to include a player in possession of the ball and also allowing a ball holder to move backwards towards an opponent while shielding the ball from that opponent – as long as the ball holder does not make physical contact with the opponent – which is his own interpretation.

But it is clear from the video posted at the head of this article that that ‘interpretation’ is ‘old hat’. FIH Umpires have for many years been allowing full-on contact by a player who is receiving the ball or who is in controlled  possession of the ball – it’s only an opponent who positions to block the ball or who attempts to tackle such a player, who risks being penalised – for impeding or physical contact. The application of the Rules – some Rules more than others – is in a state of anarchy. The back-into interpretation presently being promoted by Cris Maloney et al was but a step along the way.

Hockey has generally become ugly and less, not more skillful, as it should have done, over the last twenty-five years. Oh, we see videos of people with amazing juggling skills practicing in uncontested situations, moves that are not legal in a hockey match, but the free-flowing passing and dribbling game, the ‘new interpretation’ was supposed to herald an expansion of, has all but vanished. The fact that defenders can shield the ball and move with it while shielding it without any fear of penalty, equates with the unwelcome turning, shielding and barging tactics of attackers trying to penetrate the shooting circle in possession of the ball and turns hockey into a farce, a game without properly applied Rules.