Posts tagged ‘Rules of Hockey’

September 29, 2019

Simplification and Clarification

Rules of Hockey.

Simplification and Clarification.

Open any rule book published in the last thirty years and you are likely to find in the Introduction or Preface a statement that the FIH HRB/ Rules Committee is always seeking to simplify and clarify the Rules or an announcement that it has done so within that publication. This is announced as a if a good thing, something to be desired but the result of this work may well be the very opposite.

By 1992 we had an Obstruction Rule which had not been altered in decades

A player shall not obstruct by running between an opponent and the ball nor interpose himself or his stick as an obstruction.

Technical Interpretations – a section in the back of the rule-book, gave:-
Body Obstruction and Interference (Rule 12) A player may not place any part of his body or stick between an opponent and the ball. Such actions are called obstruction and may also be referred to as screening the ball or blocking. Obstruction can only happen when: (a) an opponent is trying to play the ball (b) an opponent is in a position to play the ball without interfering with the legitimate actions of the player with the ball (c) the ball is within playing distance or could be played if no obstruction had taken place.

I would simplify that to:- An obstruction offence by a player in possession of the ball will occur when the ball is within the playing distance of a tackler who is demonstrating an intent to tackle for the ball, and the ball could be played at by the tackler, if not shielded by the body or stick of the ball holder, to prevent this action.

It is not necessary to mention physical interfere by a tackler as this breaches Rule 9.3. And an attempt to play at the ball legally may be made impossible by a moving or stationary shielding action by the ball holder. A Rule should not impose or demand an impossibility. i.e. demand that an attempt be made to play at the ball when that has been made impossible by the actions of the opponent in possession of it.

The offence is the illegal prevention of a legal tackle for the ball by an opponent and the criterion should reflect that.

In 1993 the Rule Proper was the same but there was an enormous ‘new interpretation’, occupying one and a half pages, presented in Technical Interpretations in the back of the rule-book. As I have written previously, this “new interpretation” was not in fact a new interpretation, the criterion for an obstruction offence remained exactly as they had been in the previous years. What was introduced was an Exception to the Rule; the Rule was no longer to apply during the time an opponent, (who could be facing in any direction, including towards his or her own base-line) was in the act of receiving and controlling the ball – and only during that time.

I present here only one sentence from this ‘New Interpretation’

Having collected the ball, the receiver must move away in any direction (except, of course, bodily into the tackler) (my bold)

In 1995 the the wording of the Rule was expanded but nothing new was added. The use of the words “to prevent an attempt”. would have been better than “from attempting” (and that is still the case)

Obstruction. Players shall not obstruct an opponent from attempting to play the ball by :
• moving or interposing themselves or their sticks
• shielding the ball with their sticks or any part of their bodies
• physically interfering with the sticks or bodies of opponents.

And there was a one word alteration to the ‘New Interpretation’.

(Having received it) the player with the ball may move off with the ball in any direction (except bodily into the tackler). (my bold)

It is impossible to describe that change as either a simplification or a clarification. It changed an instruction to take a certain action – to move away (from opponents?) (presumably with the ball) – to wording that provided no instruction or prohibition, except prohibiting moving bodily into a tackler, an action already prohibited under Rule 9.3. It was (and remains in later form) an obscurantism.

Within three years of publishing the ‘new interpretation’ the late George Croft, then Hon. Sec. of the Hockey Rules Board, felt obliged to point out to players and umpires in the Preface of the 1998 Rules of Hockey that there still was, despite what some might think, an Obstruction Rule. A similar comment would not be out of place in the current rule-book.

In 2002 the following was included as clarification in the Advice to Umpires section of the rule-book and was also presented in the first of the published Umpire Managers Briefing for Umpires at FIH Tournaments (the UMB).

Umpires should be aware of players who are in possession of the ball who:
• back into an opponent;
• turn and try to push past an opponent;
• shield the ball with body, leg or stick and stand still when under pressure;
• drag the ball near their back foot when moving down the side-line or along the back-line;
• shield the ball with the stick to prevent a legitimate tackle.

All of which had become standard tactics at the time. The prohibition on ball dragging (shunting, crabbing) now needs expansion and the inclusion of these actions (and others) away from the side-lines and base-lines. But instead, in 2004 following a reformatting of the rule-book, using a different page size, the entire Technical Interpretations and Advice to Umpires sections were deleted. An act of vandalism referred to as a simplification. The following then became the entire Rule and Explanation.

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

“may move off” was replaced by the equally vacuous “is permitted to move off with it” which was only an improvement because it stipulated moving off with the ball (immediately passing the ball away had always been an alternative option)

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this is third party or shadow obstruction). This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper) when a penalty corner is being taken.

The last clause confusingly mixed a player blocking or interposing while tackling for the ball, with the entirely different offence of Third Party Obstruction.The clause is badly set out and should separate these different types of obstruction into two paragraphs.

The pages of the ‘new interpretation’ were reduced to a single short sentence, the bizarre:- A stationary player receiving the ball is permitted to face in any direction. (instructions to a moving player were abandoned for obvious reason i.e. in practice they were exactly the same as the instructions to stationary players and should never have been presented as if there was a difference between them. It’s bizarre because no explanation for it is offered, and it led very quickly to the idea that a stationary player in possession of the ball could not obstruct an opponent – hence the development of the practice of ‘holding’ the ball in a corner of the pitch or up against a side-line or even a base-line – which in saner times would have been penalised with a penalty stroke if done by a defender in his or her own circle).

In 2009 The clause which begins “A player with the ball is permitted…” was extended to include moving to position between an opponent who was trying to play at the ball and the ball (this addition to the Rule Explanation is largely ignored in current umpiring practice). My previous comment about preventing an opponent playing at the ball also applies to this extension

9.12 Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play 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)

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this is third party or shadow obstruction). This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper or player with goalkeeping privileges) when a penalty corner is being taken.

The above Rule, which is current, is one of the reasons I do not want to see a Rule change moratorium. It needs restoration. Useful clauses that have been removed, what they are they should be obvious, need to be returned and further clarified.

Similar work needs to be done on the Ball Body Contact Rule (including the Forcing Rule), the Dangerously Played Ball Rule, the Raised Hit Rule, the Ball in the Air Rule (including the playing of the ball at above shoulder height and Use of Stick Rule), the Free Hit Rule, the Umpiring Rules and the replacement of the Penalty Corner, among others.

June 18, 2019

Raised Hit Rules should be amended or deleted.

Rules of Hockey

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.

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.

This Rule was preceded by two others.

First a long established Rule.
A player shall not deliberately raise the ball so that it will fall into the circle

Followed by:-

A player shall not deliberately raise the ball from a HIT, except for a shot at goal.

Which was introduce at a time when raising the ball safely with a hit was perfectly legal, but because (sic) the new ultra stiff carbon fibre reinforced sticks introduced in the early 1980s, facilitate the making of very high pitch length clip or chip hits (from one circle to the other) this quickly led to some very unsafe hitting of lofted balls as well as some ball exchanges that looked more like base-line tennis than hockey. There were also of course an increase in the numbers of instances where there were issues about the receiving of what is now referred to as an aerial ball (a term that has never appeared in any rule-book). It was not necessary to prohibit the raising of the ball with a hit, an absolute height limit of shoulder height would have served the purpose.

We then lost the prohibition on raising the ball into the circle (with a hit) (This was previously a Rule which had forbidden the raising of the ball into the circle with any stroke) because the prohibition was seen as unnecessary if the ball could only be raised with a hit when taking a legitimate shot at the goal.

We then had this written into the UMB.
Blow only in dangerous situations everywhere on the pitch -forget lifted, think danger., which contrasts sharply with:-

A raised hit must be judged explicitly on whether or not it is raised intentionally.

‘Forgetting’ that the ball that the ball has been illegally raised unless it is also raised dangerously overlooks that an illegally raised ball may have disadvantaged opponents even if it did not endanger any of them – and that is of course unfair.

In any case the UMB should not contradict the Explanation of Application provided with the Rule.  A raised hit must be judged explicitly on whether or not it is raised intentionally.

(I believe whoever drafted that explanation meant to  write “specifically” rather than “explicitly”, because “explicitly” does not make sense in this context).

Umpires generally avoid applying Rule 9.9 anyway (except when the raised ball has very obviously endangered an opponent i.e.  injury is caused) by declaring that they cannot be certain of an intention to raise the ball (just as they declared they could not be certain of an intention to force a ball-body contact onto an opponent when the forcing Rule was extant). The result is that it is now not at all unusual to see players using edge hits and forehand chips and undercut hits into an opposing team’s circle without penalty.

The problems with this Rule can be solved by going back to the original intent – preventing the raising of the ball into the opponent’s circle – but with several differences.

1) Introduce an absolute height limit on any ball raised with a hit in the area outside the opponent’s circle (this could be shoulder height)

2) All raising of the ball into the opponent’s circle with a hit is prohibited in all phases of play irrespective of danger or intention. Intention to raise the ball into the opponent’s circle is irrelevant, it is an offence even when there is no intent i.e. it is accidental, the result of a miss-hit or a deflection.

3) Raising the ball into the opponent’s circle with a flick or scoop to be height limited (sternum or elbow height)

4) All raising of the ball in the areas outside the opponent’s circle to follow the criteria for Dangerous Play laid out in Rule 9.8.

5) All shots at the goal to follow the criteria for Dangerous Play laid out in Rule 9.8.

6) A shot at the goal that is not also made directly at an opponent is not height limited.

The above provides a framework for the legitimate and illegitimate raising of the ball with a hit or flick or scoop.



June 16, 2019

Above Shoulder Ball Rules should be amended.

Rules of Hockey.

9.7 Players may stop, receive and deflect or play the ball in a
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.

In the year before the above Rule was introduced it was mandatory to award a penalty corner against a defender who attempted to play at an above shoulder height ball that was going wide of the goal. The FIH Rules Committee then leapt to the opposite extreme and now pretty much allow a free-for-all when a ball is falling into the area close to and directly in front of the opponents goal, because high shots at the goal are very rarely penalised and most attackers, given the opportunity and especially in congested situations, will take a volley shot at the goal rather than play the ball to ground and then take a shot.

The above Rule unnecessarily introduced several dangers which had not previously been present .
All that was required was an amendment which would allow a receiving player in free space to receive a ball while it was still above shoulder height and play it in control to ground.  There was no need for a facility to allow a free receiver to play (a very wide term) the ball away (perhaps as as a hit  pass or shot at goal) or to deflect the ball away (as a pass or shot at goal) while it was still above shoulder height.

This Rule also ran contrary to an undertaking made by the FIH Hockey Rules Board at the time off-side was deleted from the Rules (1997), to introduce measures to constrain the actions of attackers close to the goal. The above Rule does the opposite. I have written an article suggesting a goal zone which would provide a small measure of protection to defenders,particularly to goalkeepers who are often unfairly crowded by opponents in the goalmouth.…ewrite-rule-9-14/

I wrote that article as a suggestion for a replacement to Rule 9.14, so there is no need for me to address that Rule again in this series of posts.

So rewriting Rule 9.7 I suggest:-

9.7 Players may intercept and play a ball in the air directly and safely to ground and into their own control and, where that ball is above shoulder height, safely onto a path where they alone will be able to chase and collect it. A ball may be intercepted at any height the player can reach with the stick in the air (it will be acceptable to jump to reach the ball with the stick).

A player may not hit or deflect the ball away beyond his or her playing reach while it is still above shoulder height, for example, as a pass or a shot or beyond where it can be reached and controlled before any opponent has opportunity to contest for it – so a player may control such a ball only into free space and where it is easily reachable by that same player.

A ball in the air that is below shoulder height when received may be played or played away in any manner that does not endanger another player.

A player may not under any circumstances play or play at a ball that is above shoulder height when he or she is in the opponent’s circle.


June 16, 2019

Intimidation and Impeding Rules should be amended.

Rules of Hockey

9.4 Players must not intimidate or impede another player.

The above Rule is a mix of disparate statements which seem to have little to link them and it is hard to see why they were cobbled together in one Rule with no Explanation at all.

Intimidation seems to have more to do with endangerment or potential endangerment, and impeding more to do with third-party obstruction and perhaps with physical contact.

The only thing they certainly have in common is that they are very rarely penalised under this Rule. Only once in my time as an umpire did I penalise a player for intimidation. They can both be transferred to more appropriate Rules and this Rule deleted.

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

I have been advocating the abolition of the offence of ‘back-sticks’ for more than thirty years, from even before edge hitting was introduced. Now that we have edge hitting retaining a back-sticks Rule makes no sense at all.  Abolishing this Rule will allow the development of a much wider range of stick-work skills and will also enable the 10% of the population who happen to be left-handed to easily play with the right hand at the top of the stick and hit on their forehand off their right foot rather than their left.

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

This is a silly Rule because it hangs off the subjective judgement of the meaning of ‘hard’ rather than objectively looking at what the effect of the hit is on the ball- the result of the hit.

I think that edge hitting should be permitted from both sides of the stick and of the body, but that any ball propelled in this way should be height limited, even when making a shot on goal. I suggest sternum height as a limit which is approximately elbow height or 120cms on a male senior. This height is easily marked on a goal with an elasticated tape running across each goal-post from the back of the post and then around the back of the net. Female players and juniors could use lesser heights (perhaps 110cms and 100cms respectively).

These height limits and goal marking will fit in with suggestions related to a dangerously played ball which I will come to in Rule 9.8.

June 15, 2019

Physical Contact Rules should be amended.

Rules of Hockey.

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

There are a number of Rules within Conduct of play that prohibit the making of physical contact. The Explanation of Application of the Obstruction Rule, for example, prohibits moving bodily into an opponent and Rule 9.13 below:-

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

is entirely unnecessary given Rule 9.3. but it is odd in another way too, it forbids a tackle attempt unless the tackler in a position to play the ball without body contact, when advice to umpires given in the UMB the Umpire Manager’s Briefing for Umpires at FIH Tournaments, to give this document its full title, suggests that umpires should not follow this Rule:-

Do not penalise if the tackler initially appears to be in an
impossible position from which to make a legal tackle.

So the umpire must await contact, which is also contrary to Rule 9.3. The UMB should never contradict Rule and where this does happen the FIH Rules Committee and the FIH Umpiring Committee should liaise and delete one or the other instruction. As the Rule have Executive approval and the UNB does not, it should normally be the conflicting UMB Advice that should disappear, but in this case I suggest the deletion of both Rule 9.13 and the Advice in the UMB.

Rule 9.3 should specify physical or contact interference, rather than just interference and then we are done describing the prohibition of physical contact in hockey.

June 15, 2019

Teams Rules should be amended.

Rules of Hockey

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.

That used to stipulate that one of the players on each team had to be a fully equipped goalkeeper wearing at least a helmet, leg-guards and kickers. These days “fully equipped” would reasonably include groin protection, gloves or hand protectors and a chest protector. It would not be unreasonable to require a throat protector and elbow protectors.

The requirement that there be a fully equipped goalkeeper was deleted because it was said that in some countries individuals or clubs could not afford to buy this equipment. That puts the emphasis on cost rather than on player safety and that should be unacceptable.

At present we have a number of complicated substitution Rules which allow a player with (limited) goalkeeping privileges, a (PWGP) sometimes known as a kicking-back, additionally protected only with a helmet, to guard the goal, while at the same time being an additional field player. This is not good enough, when opposing attackers feel free to propel the ball at a PWGP as if he or she were fully protected and umpires allow them to do so.

I suggest the substitution of a PWGP for a fully equipped goal-keeper be abolished as unsafe.

There is a need to research a cheaper way to produce HD foam or to make cheaper goalkeeping equipment in the cane and leather style but using lighter and stronger materials.

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

That means that a player cannot continue to take part in a hockey match if he or she has dropped their stick, they cannot interfere with the play of opponents in any way – which is fair enough.

But the second part “and not use it in a dangerous way” is appallingly vague and the provided ‘Explanation’ that a player must not lift the stick over the head of an opponent is ambiguous and insufficient. What constitutes dangerous use of the stick should be set out clearly in a section of Rule 8 Dangerous play and not just ‘thrown away’ as if an afterthought. So possession of a stick needs expanding and the second part needs to be transferred and incorporated within Rule 9.8.

There have been more than sufficient serious injuries caused by high stick. swings to give serious consideration to limiting the height to which the head of a stick may be raised when there is or will be an opponent within the swing arc of the stick before or after a ball is played. At the moment players shaping up to strike at a ball are often getting away with deliberate intimidation or are playing without any regard for the safety of opponents, this needs to be addressed.



June 15, 2019

Liability Rules should be amended.

Rules of Hockey.

“If they are not broken why fix them?” Is a criticism I have often had leveled at my suggestions for Rule changes. I have two replies. “I think they are broken” (then hopefully the suggested change will demonstrate in what ways the Rule in question is inadequate) or “Do you wait until a car has to be abandoned by the side of a road before you think of doing maintenance to it?” When a warning light comes on (when there is indication of a fault) that is the time to take action.

The Rules of the game will never be perfect but there is need to adjust them so that they are fair and the practiced application of them does not unnecessarily endanger participants.

To begin.

9 Conduct of play : players
Players are expected to act responsibly at all times.

The responsibility statement above has been re-positioned and reworded. Both these actions have weakened it so that it hardly registers with readers of Rule 9 Conduct of Play.  If we go to the first page of the rule-book we find the following important declaration. 

Responsibility and Liability
Participants in hockey must be aware of the Rules
of Hockey and of other information in this publication.
They are expected to perform according to the Rules.
Emphasis is placed on safety.

Everyone involved in the game must act with consideration for the safety of others.
Relevant national legislation must be observed.
Players must ensure that their equipment does not
constitute a danger to themselves or to others by virtue
of its quality, materials or design.

Participants are gives four Rules in that declaration but most of them are unaware of that, which is ironic. They used to be given six. The two altered/missing ones could be written. Players must perform in accordance with the Rules. Players must act responsibly at all times.

I believe there is a good case for restoring the two Rules to the statement about Responsibility and Liability and for repeating (and expanding), in numbered clause form, all of the above Rules within Rule 9.8, which should be about dangerous play in general and not just about a dangerously played ball. I would remove the ‘invisible’ expectation now at the head of Rule 9.,  so I start with a deletion.

Rule 9.8. Dangerous play requires a great deal of expansion, even if that means repeating instructions about danger attached to other Rules. This fits with the supposed emphasis on safety – which presently does not exist.

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 and Rule 12 Penalties. 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 (in Part One) make full suggestion for these 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 or expansion or replacement or deletion. I will make no further comment about those that are not highlighted

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 a
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

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

11.6 Umpires blow the whistle to:

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
12.2 A free hit is awarded to the opposing team:
a for an offence by any player between the 23 metres
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

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.

So I am thinking of suggesting changes to only twenty-four Rules in this article – which is basically a rewrite of the Rules of Conduct of Play, a modest target (there will be some amalgamation and some replacement) as there is nothing I haven’t suggested many times before. I will begin these suggestions in Part One following the preliminary setting out above.

June 4, 2019


An article from the Hindustan Times published in the website on 4th June 2019.

‘Focus on limiting changes to hockey,’ says FIH’s CEO Thierry Weil

Change is the only constant in international hockey, a sport that sees such frequent tinkering in its rules and tournament formats that even its ardent fans find it hard to keep up.

B Shrikant


Change is the only constant in international hockey, a sport that sees such frequent tinkering in its rules and tournament formats that even its ardent fans find it hard to keep up.

For example, the qualifying programme for the Olympic Games has been changed four times in the last three decades.

In the Olympics, the host country, five continental champions and six qualifiers make the 12-team field, and though the continental championships remain intact, the qualifying event has been changed regularly—a single tournament gave way to three events of eight teams each (till 2012), which was replaced by the Hockey World League, which in turn gave way to the Pro League and FIH (international hockey federation) Series (Open and Finals).

The Pro League currently involves eight top teams playing each other on home and away basis while the other competition involves a series of FIH Series Open events followed by three 8-team Finals.

However, even as eight teams—India, Japan, South Africa, Poland, Russia, Uzbekistan, USA and Mexico—get ready for the second event in the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar, which will be held from June 6-15, comes the news that the event will be discontinued from next year.

Similarly, the FIH has dumped the Champions Trophy, and reworked rules nearly every year as the game has metamorphosed from a match of two halves to one involving four quarters of 15 minutes each.

So, why does the FIH introduce so many changes, unlike sports like football and tennis, whose basic structure has remained the same?

Hindustan Times put this question to Thierry Weil, FIH’s chief executive officer and he agreed that there have been too many changes.

As far as the FIH Series is concerned, Weil blamed financial burdens for scrapping the tournament.

“The FIH Series involves teams that are not in the Pro League, provide them a chance to qualify for the Olympics,” he said. But participating in these events is a big financial burden on these teams. Also, we found out that there was a conflict with the activities of the continental federations which were also conducting similar tournaments. I agree that changes have come too frequently but many of them were necessary, like ‘no offside’ because it was not conducive to the fast-pace of hockey. When I took over as CEO (in April 2018), I have asked them to limit these changes. My focus has been on standardising the calendar and evolving the Pro League,” Weil said.

Meanwhile, the game will continue to see some big changes in the next few years.

Pro League 2 in the offing

The FIH is planning to launch a second division of Pro League, tentatively named Pro League 2, which will involve teams ranked between 9 to 20 and introduce promotions and relegations.

“It’s one of the ideas we are working on,” Weil said. “Recently, we have introduced a two-year home and away system which will reduce by half the travel in the current format.”

The FIH is likely to roll out the second division from next year.

Big investments

Weil said the FIH has made significant investments in introducing a new ranking system from January 2020, and a new synthetic turf which reduces dependence on water. The roll out of a new match-based ranking system will also promote bilateral series involving top teams.

“Each match will become important as it will involve some points. All matches recognised by FIH will contribute towards the ranking of the team,” he said.

Introduction of a new turf before 2024 is the most ambitious project that FIH has taken up, as water scarcity is a growing reality that impedes the widespread adoption of the current astroturf, especially in countries like India.

“Currently we are in investment mode and have made big investments in the rankings system, new turf and promotion of Pro League,” Weil said.

The title of this newspaper article is misleading; the “Rules” written about are not the Rules of Hockey or FIH Tournament Regulations,  (the latter concern  the way in which players may compete in matches in an FIH Tournament.). Whether or nor a match is played in two halfs or four quarters does not effect the way in which players play – but may make the game more high paced or ‘frantic’. Whatever the current perception, the FIH Executive does not approve several changes to the Rules every year – they are very conservative – too conservative for me.

In the first of these areas, the Rules of Hockey, huge change is needed to rectify the mistakes made in the past twenty or so years and to improve the way in which the game is played and officiated.

What is likely to happen is that the “no change” mantra, which is advocated above, will conflate changes to the way teams qualify for the Olympic Games and World Cups, with change to the Rules of Hockey (what is drafted by the Rules Committee and published as the Rules of Hockey by the FIH). As usual the FIH are not communicating clearly and neither is the newspaper reporter.

Thierry Weil was not talking primarily about the Rules of Hockey but about the Regulations concerning League and Tournament formats and the means of qualification to World Level events, as well as about economics and water shortage concerns and standards for pitch surfaces, Technical Specifications such as these are not at all the same thing as “the Rules” as commonly understood.

If there is concern about the frequency of past changes to the Rules of Hockey this can be addressed by discarding from ‘practice’ those changes which the FIH Rules Committee have not actually made and dissuading umpires (and Umpire Managers) from imposing their own personal interpretations as if Rules.

The invention that an on target shot at the goal could not be considered to be dangerous play, springs to mind. A stationary player cannot obstruct, is another. A third:- Aerial Rules (whatever they might be) do not apply to either shots at the goal or to deflections. The list of what will not be found in any rule-book but is applied as if it can be, goes on and on and the FIH Executive just look the other way even though they must know they have NOT approved these ‘Rules’. See…-the-netherlands/

December 28, 2018


Back in 2006 when I was a regular contributor to a ‘newbie’ named Keely Dunn joined and posted about a defender positioned in front of the goal during a penalty corner and asserted in that post that such a defended caused danger and should be penalised if hit with an attacker’s shot at the goal. I posted a reply to that assertion in which I stated that the opposite was true – that a ball raised towards another player that endangered that other player was always, provided there was no intentional use of the body by the defender to stop or deflect the ball, the fault and responsibility of the player who raised the ball. Keely Dunn’s response was a tirade of more than a thousand words in which she declared that the fact that a defender positioned between a shooter and the goal demonstrated an intention to use the body to stop the ball and she then went on to describe her dedication to umpiring, her ambition (at the time to be an Olympic Umpire) and her hard work to that end. (an absurd attempt to claim the moral high ground by asserting that I had made a personal attack on her, when I only disputed her opinion on a single issue – absurd because I was the one trying to protect players from dangerous play, while she was promoting the opposite). She finished her response by scolding me for “calling her out” and stated that if I ever did so again she would not respond – so this time I am perfectly safe from her rebukes despite the fact that I am again going to disagree with her (declare that she is wrong)  in the same way and for the same reasons. I will not accept that a defender is not allowed to defend the goal or not allowed to be in (punished for being in) any position they need to be to do so.

Below, in coloured text, is part of her analysis of the changes to the Rules of Hockey for 2019, in which she makes a similar claim to the one she made in 2006, concerning the protection offered under the Rules to a defender in front of the goal when a shot is made at the goal. That this is presented as a matter of safety is bizarre as there would seldom be any danger in such circumstances if the ball was not raised by a shooter directly towards a defender (a deflection towards a defender is rarely the result of raising the ball directly at that defender by an initial shooter).

In her defence I must point out that she has reversed the long-standing meme that an outrunning defender at a penalty corner who is attempting to tackle for the ball with his stick is committing an offence.  (She does not now refer to such out-runners as ‘suicide runners‘).

The reason for taking away a non-kitted player who can use their body inside the circle to play the ball is primarily safety. Watching a player without any real protective equipment throw themselves in front of a ball for club or country has become a Hunger Games-esque spectacle (for example, from the men’s World Cup, see the Blacksticks’ Bennett running down a Peillat drag flick, or England’s Gleghorne all but decapitating |Ireland’s O’Donoghue on the line at the end of their crossover match).

The two clips below contain the incidents referred to in the above paragraph.

I would not describe the PWGKP in the Ireland goal as a someone who had thrown himself into the path of a shot at the goal while aping the actions of a fully kitted goalkeeper, but rather as someone genuinely trying to get out of the way of the ball because he believed he would be badly injured if hit with it.

It is part of the training of goalkeepers to persuade them that a hit with the ball to the head when they are wearing a helmet is not life threatening (although there have been some nasty injuries caused to goalkeepers by the failure of a sub-standard helmet or a previously weakened eye-grill) and get them to use the helmet to deflect the ball. This training is not easy as it is counter-intuitive to most people, and it can be no surprise that a field-player who has not been properly trained as a goalkeeper should react as if his head was not protected with a helmet. (Injuries to the side of the head, including fractures of the skull, are not uncommon in defenders wearing face masks, who turn their face away from an incoming ball; overcoming the instinct to avert the face is not an easy task – the injury to Godfrey Irwin of Cookstown HC in the EHL comes to mind).

The Rule which penalises the raising of the ball into an outrunning defender during a penalty corner is a near copy of the part of the Explanation of application of Rule 9.9. concerning the raising of a ball towards an opponent – but there are critical differences.
The Penalty corner Rule contains reference to a height limit (knee height), Rule 9.9. does not, Rule 9.9 refers to the strokes used to propel the ball, while Rule 13.3.l does not. (but I believe it sensible to consider a ball that has been raised with a hit or an intentional deflection into a close opponent in open play to be dangerous play). Do you see how unnecessarily diverse and complicated the Rules are even in simple matters such as raising the ball towards a close opponent? More about that following the last video below

At lower levels, the benefit to pulling the goalkeeper is still too often an exercise in futility where a hapless defender stands on the penalty spot wearing a different—coloured shirt, terrified to leave and create the numerical advantage that is the sole benefit of the exercise.

Teams are now constrained to using only all field players to create the numerical advantage (or continue playing a match where a fully—kitted goalkeeper is unavailable). It doesn’t change the fact that we have unprotected players running around in the circle, but hopefully, there will be less incentive for anyone brave soul to sacrifice their limbs for goal-saving glory. I nominate this the rule Most Likely To Be Forgotten It Was Ever Different When The Next Rule Book Comes Out.

Way less to remember. There are no fewer than 24 instances (yes, I counted them because I’m a giver that way) in the rule book where a PWGKP was specified in addition to the goalkeeper and those are now all gone. No more arguing about putting on helmets, whether they can wear the goalkeeper’s blockers on penalty corners, or reminding attackers that YES THEY CAN USE THEIR FEET, PLEASE JUST PLAY ON NOW CHEERS.

I am surprised that anyone could have doubted that a player in the position that used to be referred to as ‘kicking back’ could use their feet, but I suppose it is possible since PWGKP was introduced into terminology some years ago. But this mess is not going to be forgotten. It was wise of the FIH HRB to insist on a fully equipped goalkeeper when they did and a mistake to withdraw that requirement – despite the difficulties with the expense of kit in some regions. The eroding attitude to the safety of defenders positioned in front of the goal does not inspire confidence in the wisdom of the FIH RC in making the change made for 2019-. I believe the only reasonable course is to go back to the fully equipped goalkeeper being a compulsory element of a team, in the same way that helmets became compulsory for goalkeepers.  (It’s daft to compel a goalkeeper to wear a helmet but not compel a team to have a goalkeeper, and also to have the option to replace a fully kitted goalkeeper with a field player – who will be shot at as if he or she were a fully equipped goalkeeper.)

However, you’re likely going to have more situations where you have difficult decisions to make regarding dangerous play, i.e. when attackers shoot at goal with field players in the way. You’ll need to continue to keep in mind the idea that defenders who are standing in front of the goal doing their best Maddie Hinch are choosing to put themselves in danger (and really need to stop that, m’kay?).

No not m’kay or okay. An attacker who chooses to raise the ball at an opponent in a way that endangers that opponent (forces self-defence for example), chooses to commit a foul and should be penalised. A player who carelessly or recklessly raises the ball towards another player (I believe the change to “opponent” to be a mistake – the emphasis should be on the safety of all players – hospital emergency rooms will not make a distinction between injured same team or opposing team players) commits an offence and should be penalised.

Defenders who are marking, intercepting, closing down the ball or otherwise making an attempt to tackle are NOT putting themselves in danger and need to be protected.

Of course they are putting themselves in danger, given the present penalty-corner set up they have no choice but to do so. Anything which facilitates the near immediate making of a shot at the goal will be stupidly dangerous to defenders trying to prevent that shot and having to run between 12m and 14m towards opponents in possession of the ball to do so, especially with the present attitude towards a ball raised towards a defender – even if it is only allowed below knee height when the opponent is within 5m.(any defender positioned beyond 5m is apparently ‘fair game’) The penalty-corner needs to be replaced with a power-play conducted in the opponent’s 23m area and the now necessary ‘charge’ eliminated.

I don’t hate this change. Simple is usually better, and safety (when real and not imagined) is no one’s enemy. it’ll also make teams more cautious when pulling their goalkeeper. But when they do, they’ll go for goal with more rigour, making for more exciting, attacking hockey at the right moments.

I very much doubt what is written in the last sentence. Attackers will still back into opponents, spin and ‘look for a foot’, at present they are given, because of ‘umpiring practice’, no reason not to.

The above clip is an excellent example of the degrading of Rule to the point where it is applied in the opposite way to that which it was obviously intended it be applied. Any forcing action is still supposed to be dealt with (penalised) under “other Rules”. What other Rule if the ball is not raised? Your guess would be welcome.

The ARG player who makes a tackle and gets possession of the ball has several options immediately available to him but realizes what the team needs most is time to position to take advantage of their possession of the ball – they are closely grouped and still recovering from the chase-back to retrieve the ball from their opponents and so are not ideally placed to exploit possession. So what does he do? He decides to ‘win’ a free ball.  He has no hesitation in raising the ball and aiming it into the legs of the NZ player (contrary to what is given with Rule 9.9), who is attempting to position to tackle him because he fully expects the umpires to ignore this foul and to penalise the player hit with the ball. As it happened the NZ player intercepted the ball with his stick, but the ARG player appealed for a contact offence anyway, possibly hoping that the umpire was too far away to be certain of what actually happened (the umpire was still recovering from his move to the baseline in anticipation of an NZ attack, but must have seen that the ball was raised from close range into the NZ player? No?) The umpire followed expectation and awarded penalty against the player the ball was raised at, following the claimed contact, and the ARG player got away with this blatant cheating.

This raises the matter of the positioning of umpires and the number of officials on the pitch. I think, at this level, there should be five officials. Four flag officials running the arcs between the half-line and the goal-posts, each responsible for one side of a single half of the pitch, with some overlap around the half-way line, and an umpire in the center between the circles running the diagonals between the widths of the circles. In that way almost all incidents on the pitch should be supervised by at least two close officials and often by three. Should anyone think this number excessive they might consider that a top level tennis match is supervised by eight officials (seven of them with a very limited task) and the playing area and the number of players involved is a fraction of that used to play a hockey match.

I view the shot at the head of the IRE PWGKP when there was nobody guarding the left post and therefore much of the left side of the goal open, as cheating i.e. as deliberate dangerous play. In my view the (highly skilled) shooter deliberately targeted the defender knowing the defender would not be able to adequately defend himself. A risible comment? If you like, but despite my Irish blood there are no ‘sour grapes’, a 3-2 loss is as much a loss as a 4-2 loss. There can be no doubt (the opinion of Keely Dunn aside) that the shot was dangerous play by the shooter and it was played where it was played deliberately. A small risk as ENG were winning anyway, but maybe the shooter thought a shot wide of the defender would be more easily saved. There was nobody doing “a Maddie Hitch impression”, there was desperate evasive action, which in the circumstances was, I believe, legitimate. That shot would have been saved easily by a competent goalkeeper but a PWGKP, wearing only a helmet for additional protection (which he would not have been accustomed to wearing), stood very little chance of stopping it.

July 2020 and i need to add to this article comment about acceptance of risk and a defender choosing to position (probably on the goal-line) to defend the goal because of risible comments made by the Umpire Manager at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“Of course” he says but why “Of course” The usual ‘other reason trotted out is ‘acceptance of risk’ – the defender choosing  to be in place  where the ball could be propelled at him or her.

Acceptance of risk is the usual, normal and reasonable acceptance of the fact that in the course of a sport (or other activity) a player may be injured by accident. In such circumstances a player cannot claim compensation for damages because of such injury (it’s a legal principle). BUT, the principle hangs on the actions of others being reasonable in the context and very importantly on the actions being legal i.e. not against the Rules of the sport being engaged in.

Raising the ball at an opponent in a way that endangers that opponent and causes that opponent to take or attempt to take evasive action is dangerous play – and dangerous play is neither a reasonable or legal action in hockey, it is an offence, a foul. It matters not that it is legal to raise the ball at the goal at any height when shooting in open play. It is NOT legal to endanger another player while doing so. So the risk that that may happen is not something that can be ‘accepted’.

The fact is that it is the shooter who chooses to propel the ball by raising it, who chooses to propel it at maximum velocity, and who chooses not to avoid hitting defenders he or she is able to see are positioned between his or her position and the goal. The defender on the other hand is positioned where an attacker might propel the ball, the goal being 3.66m wide. Choice is with the shooter, not the defender of the shot, who is often forced by the action of the shooter to self-defence. All players MUST act with consideration for the safety of others. “Of course” they must – that Rule is given on page one of the rule-book where even the most reluctant of readers can easily find it.

December 19, 2018

Rule Changes for 2019

The FIH bring a band-aid to a train crash.

The following is from the FIH website (My comment in italics, but I don’t know why I am still bothering to make comment).

Lausanne, Switzerland: Every second year, the Rules Committee of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) may make proposals to amend the rules of hockey. In 2018, the following proposals have been made by the Committee and approved by the Executive Board:

(This is not a complete list of all the changes made; to find those you will need to look at the new version of the rule-book via the FIH web-site)

Introduction of the match format of four quarters as standard

In international matches, teams have been playing four quarters for some years and it is felt that uniformity in match formats can be achieved when all match formats are based on a four-quarter principle. Like in international matches, time is stopped between the awarding of a penalty corner and the taking of that penalty corner. Other than in international matches, where this is covered by FIH Tournament Regulations, time is not stopped to celebrate goals as this was introduced primarily for television coverage. The four quarters has additional advantages at junior levels of the sport in which coaches often umpire youth school matches and the additional breaks provide for coaching opportunities.

(It is not stated above if playing time will be reduced from 70mins to 60mins as in current International matches. I don’t believe a reduction of time played will be popular. We could and I think should, have four quarters of 20mins in all hockey i.e. an addition to playing time to bring hockey more into line with other outdoor team sports).   P.S. Playing time has been reduced to 60mins.

Removal of Goalkeeping privileges for substitute field player

A mandatory experiment, with effect from 1 January 2019, taking out the option for teams to play with a field player with goalkeeping privileges. Teams have now two options: they either play with a goalkeeper who wears full protective equipment comprising at least headgear, leg guards and kickers and who is also permitted to wear goalkeeping hand protectors and other protective equipment, or they play with only field players. Any change between these options should be treated as a substitution. It is hoped that this experimental rule will enhance safety as field players will no longer have goalkeeping privileges so will not be entitled to use their body to stop shots at goal and it also enhances the promotion of the sport by eliminating the issue of outfield players wearing other shirts to indicate goalkeeping privileges.

(What the FIH cannot bring themselves to say is that attackers will not be entitled to raise the ball at a field-player in the goal with impunity as they would at a goalkeeper in the goal – but fault and offence will apparently, and bizarrely, remain with defenders when an attacker raises the ball towards a defender in line with current umpiring practice but not with current Rule. The blurb above, especially that about the enhancement of safety and the promotion of the sport is only that – unsupportable blurb)

∙ Defending free hits within 5 meters of the circle

The explanation for how to treat free hits for the attacker close to the circle has been changed in Rules 13.2.f. It has now been made clear that players other than the attacker taking the free hit must be at least five meters away, including when they are in their circle. if the attacker, however, chooses to take the free hit immediately, then defenders who are inside the circle and within five meters from the ball may shadow around the inside of the circle as per the explanation of the rule before 2019. This has the advantage of not preventing the quickly taken free hit which has been widely welcomed by coaches and players, whilst maintaining the 5m rule used everywhere else on the pitch to provide space for the free hit taker.

(This is useless, there is in effect no change at all. What is needed is a restoration of taking the ball outside the hash circle when a free ball is awarded for an offence committed by a defender between the hash circle and the shooting circle. The present prohibition on playing the ball directly into the circle from a free inside the 23m line needs to be deleted and the Rules concerning the self-pass adjusted accordingly. Prohibiting the raising of the ball into the circle with a hit, in any phase of play, could sensibly replace both the present circumvented or ignored Rule concerning an intentionally raised hit and the direct playing of the ball into the opponent’s circle from a free awarded in the opponent’s 23m area. The long, high intentionally raised hit, which is very seldom penalised as it should be, could be dealt with with the imposition of an absolute height limit on any raised hit which is not a shot at the goal from within the opponent’s circle – but shots at goal that are made towards and ‘through’ defenders from beyond 5m must also be height limited, sternum height is suggested. The current adoption from the penalty corner Rules “above knee height and within 5m” being considered dangerous play, although not strictly Rule compliant in open play – where there is no minimum height mentioned – See Rule 9.9 is better than the lack of control we have from beyond 5m.)

∙ Free hits awarded inside the defensive circle
As in Indoor Hockey, a defender may now take a free hit awarded in the circle anywhere inside the circle or up to 15 meters from the back-line in line with the location of the offence, parallel to the side-line.

(Back to where we were, this should not have been changed the last time it was)

∙ Completion of a penalty corner
Rule 13.6 that described the completion of a penalty corner for substitution purposes and for a penalty corner at the end of a period, has been deleted. The option that a penalty corner is completed when the ball travels outside the circle for the second time no longer exists.

(The second change one that seems designed to further disadvantage the defending team. I can’t see the need for it or anything wrong with the present reasons to terminate a penalty corner)

(Other areas where change and reinforcement are desperately required have – as usual – been ignored )

I notice elsewhere that a goalkeeper is now allowed to propel the ball over long distances with any part of his or her equipment, a welcome change and one I have been advocating for years. We can now expect to see goalkeepers launching counter-attacks using a hand protector as well as a kicker.

These amendments will come into force on 1 January.

These detailed revisions to the Rules of hockey will be available from Friday 21st December on the FIH Rules app.

Why do I compare the Rule change actions of the FIH RC in 2019 to the application of a Band-Aid following a train crash? Because it is obvious to me that some ‘heavy lifting’ needs doing to move things out of the way that are impeding the playing of the game to a consistency applied set of Rules. I think not only should that be obvious to everyone, it IS obvious to all that some Rules are not applied at all. In this category I will put the Obstruction Rule (where the prevention of a tackle attempt and not the making of a tackle attempt should be emphasized, but most umpires seem instead to be oblivious to the existence of the Rule) and the dangerously played ball when it is a shot at the goal (excepting a first hit shot during a penalty corner). Some Rules are routinely misapplied, here, for example, we have the ball-body contact Rule and the Advantage Rule. Some Rules are unnecessary or unfair, here there is Rule concerning the taking of a free ball in the opponents 23m area: a defender intentionally playing the ball over the base-line; and the Rule/s surrounding the aerial or falling ball, just to mention the more obvious ones. The FIH RC has yet again done nothing at all to address flaws in the game arising from these Rules, some of these flaws have been with us for thirty years or more (and are therefore ‘well established’ or ‘traditional’ elements which are preserved for only that reason.

Why do the FIH RC have a ‘back-sticks’ Rule, but permit edge-hitting? The ‘back-sticks’ Rule could reasonably be deleted, that would not be more dangerous than allowing edge-hitting and would not fundamentally change the way in which the game is played – rolling the stick-head over the front of the ball would remain the most efficient way of moving the ball left to right during stick-work. I mention only that one suggestion for change (which I accept might be too far ‘outside the box’ for some) for to list all of them would take several pages (*footnote).

A related article:-…and-rule-wording/

* It actually took sixteen posts to list the suggestions with reasons and even then some appropriate changes were not included, because I referenced only the Rules concerning the Conduct of Play and two Penalties, the Free Ball and the Penalty Corner – see my recent posts Which Rules should be Amended or Deleted?  I haven’t made a count but I have probably suggested in excess of fifty changes – none frivolously.

So in 2020 we might see the FIH Rules Committee change an umpiring signal (because umpires are now not always using the advised signal) Tail wagging the dog (but in this case that is not a bad thing).

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. 

August 11, 2018

Lizzie Watkins. Regrets are not enough

I posted this article more than eight years ago and took it down after about six months exposure. I re-posted an edited version, with videos added, about a two years ago, because this needs to be asked:-           What has been done since May 2012 to try to make hockey a safer sport? 

Answer, absolutely nothing. On the contrary, players are now permitted to play the ball and even take shots at the goal on the volley when the ball is above shoulder height – which they were not permitted to do nine years ago. We still have participants who believe that an ‘on target ‘ shot at the goal cannot be considered to be dangerous play and that in such circumstances legitimate evasive action (bizarrely the definition of a dangerously played ball) does not apply.

Nothing has been done to limit the way in which a ball may be propelled towards another player from beyond 5m and even the existing restriction on raising the ball towards an opponent within 5m (given in the Explanation of Application of Rule 9.9) is widely ignored. The video below shows an incident during the 2018 WWC in which an attacker raised the ball towards a defender positioned within 5m of the attacker, causing her injury, and the umpire awarded a penalty stroke. I have no idea why the Japanese defender was penalised at all. As far as I can tell from the video the ball was traveling across the face of the goal and was not even going towards the goal when it struck the defender (that should not of course be relevant when the ball is raised at another player from close range but regrettably it is still considered to be so)


The umpire saw no reason to intervene during the play shown in the above video.


The fact that the death of Lizzie Watkins was not caused by an opponent raising the ball towards her with a hit, scoop, or flick and the deflection was not off another player’s stick (there seems in fact to have been a deflection up off her own stick) appears to have been accepted as an indication that all is well, rather than as terrible warning that even fit high level players are at risk from ball injuries when the ball is raised by an opponent with a stroke or deflection – just as other participants are.

Reports on the death of Lizzie Watkins in a field hockey incident by the FIH and various media outlets.



Aside from a mention earlier in the week on the WA Website that Lizzie was “Rushing to tackle” there has been no hint from those involved that the incident occurred during a penalty corner or that a drag-flicked shot was made. Later reports state that the incident occurred during open play.


There was also a regrettable incident, in a European Hockey League match in October 2011

From the Belfast Telegraph.

Geofrey Irwin

Godfrey Irwin might be said to be lucky. He was defending the goal during a penalty corner. The ball was propelled, with a drag-flick, high ‘through’ an out-running defender, who took evasive action (so there was a prior dangerous play offence before Irwin was hit)

Irwin, unable to track the ball from the moment it was propelled, because it was screened from him, had no chance to evade it. He knew the ball was traveling towards the goal but not the exact path of it.

He was wearing a mask but instinctively turned his head to protect his face and was hit on the back of his head just below his ear. A few centimeters higher and the strike could have been fatal to him.

He walked from the pitch unable to continue playing but unaware of the seriousness of his injury. (He had a fractured skull and a perforated ear drum and was later taken off work for a year by his doctors)

The game resumed with a penalty-stroke against Cookstown – for the ‘offence’ Irwin committed  –   being hit with a dangerously propelled ball. His attempt to evade the ball was not seen as legitimate – which was of course absurd even if the umpire did not realize the extent of his injuries.

I agree with Errol D’Cruz (Field article above) the penalty corner is now too dangerous to be continued in its present format (a statement I here base on the drag flick shot in the Irwin incident rather than the death of Lizzie Watkins, which D’Cruz mistakenly thought occurred during a penalty corner), but there is also a need for a definition of a dangerously played ball based on objective criteria, such as: 1) at a player and 2) within fifteen metres, 3) at a velocity that could cause injury, and 4) at above sternum height.

The emergence of the lifted reverse edge hit, so that it is now the preferred method of shooting at the goal in open play, makes such controls essential because the edge hit is generally not as well controlled, especially regarding height, as hit made with the flat of the face of the stick.


Players should be given the facility to judge for themselves when they can evade the ball without ‘giving away’ a goal. At present players are being forced to self-defence when a high ball is played directly at them, because evasion of the ball is generally not seen as ‘legitimate’ by umpires unless the shooter is within five meters of the defender when the ball is propelled (and often not even then – see the first presented video above). When a ball may be propelled at 75mph / 150kph or more, five metres is a ridiculously short distance on which to base ‘dangerous’ – evasion is often not possible from more than twice that distance. To talk of skill level in determining if a ball of that velocity is (or even can be) dangerous is absurd.

Endangerment should be based on the propensity of the ball to inflict injury to any person it hits, not on the supposed ability of the person endangered to avoid being hit. The physiology of international level athletes, when it comes to the effects of ball impacts on flesh and bone, is the same as that as any other human being, and the difference in reaction times, between Olympic level athletes and the average healthy individual of the same approximate age, are statically insignificant (i.e. there are very similar reaction times).

The death of Lizzy Watkins caused some activity aimed at mitigating player injury from ball impact and a spate of newspaper reports and comment on the Internet. One of which was that the poster was disgusted I was using this incident to progress my own agenda (there are some nasty stupid people around).

17th May 2012
I see from the news reports in Perth, Australia….

…that there is movement for the resurrection of a previous campaign to introduced protective helmets for field players.

I am sure that this would make the present situation re the dangerously played ball worse rather than better. Past experience has shown – as with the introduction of helmets and HD foam equipment for goalkeepers and the face-mask at a penalty corner for other defenders – that an increase in protective equipment results in a more cavalier attitude to endangering those wearing it.

I am also sure sports equipment manufacturers will be adding their support to the proposal, but I feel that the essential first step is to redefine the dangerously played ball so that a goal cannot be scored with a shot that has been lifted high and ‘through’ a defender. If a goal cannot be scored with a shot made ‘at’ an opponent in a dangerous way, but instead the shooter will be penalised, then attackers will stop making such shots.

This is the shot that hit Irwin on the head while he was positioned in front of the goal-line. At this point there has already been dangerous play; the ball was raised to above knee height directly at a defender who was within 5m of the shooter, compelling his evasive action.

Even if helmets are introduced that alone will not be sufficient action to reduce incidents of injury, it may indeed have the opposite effect. Changes to the Rules concerning the dangerously played ball will be needed even more if field-helmets are introduced.

Press article and comments from Perth Now

A DOCTOR is on a collision course with hockey officials over the sport’s lack of protective headgear after a young player died in Perth on Sunday.

Lizzie Watkins, 24, died after being hit in the head during a match at Curtin University when the ball deflected off her stick.

Melbourne doctor Denise Fraser said she would reactivate a campaign to make players wear protective headgear so such a tragedy would not be repeated.

“I am a hockey parent and I see a lot of kids hit with the hockey ball,” she said.

“A hockey ball … is not like a football or a soccer ball. It is more like a cricket ball, and when you are facing a cricket ball, you wear protective headgear.

“Goalkeepers wear head protection in hockey but the other players don’t. I have written to Hockey Victoria before and all they say is, ‘Thank you for the letter’. The rules don’t change.”

Hockey Australia chief Mark Anderson defended his sport’s safety record, saying the death was the first of its kind.

“We certainly believe hockey is a safe sport,” Anderson said.


Actual hockey player of Perth Posted at 3:14 PM May 11, 2012

This reply to the Doctor’s comment made in the above letter to the newspaper is typical of the other extreme – and based entirely on assertions that are false.

    As she said “hockey PARENT” never played the game to see wearing a helmet would get in the way more than anything and cricket players like goal keepers have the ball directly have the ball pelted at them at speed at head height. On the field the ball is meant to be kept below the knee unless flicked over head. People who don’t play the sport should keep stupid comments like that to themselves. If she’s that worried she can make her own kid wear one see how that goes for them…….. PS Wasn’t the ball that killed her was the ticking time bomb in her brain that got knocked enough to rupture. Get all facts before commenting.

Frank Watkins later e-mailed to inform me that his daughter had no skull weakness or especially vulnerable area like an embolism in her brain, she was physically a normal healthy individual.

My reply to the newspaper comment. Martin Conlon of United Kingdom Posted at 1:08 PM May 17, 2012

    Actual Hockey player of Perth has obviously never defended a drag-flick at a penalty corner. The Rules do need to be changed, the dangerously played ball is at present an almost entirely subjective decision by an umpire and a common approach among umpires at present (sic)  is that there is no such thing as a dangerous shot on goal. Defenders need to know when they can evade the ball because it WILL be called as dangerous (just as they can with a first hit shot during a penalty corner that is raised too high) and attackers need to know that they will not be allowed to score with a ball that is directed over-height at (‘through’) a defender. If attackers were prevented from scoring with high shots made ‘through’ defenders the problem of the dangerously played ball would rarely arise. The number of near-misses and minor head and face injuries occurring at present, particularly during the penalty corner and when other shots at the goal are made is unacceptable. I am however skeptical of the merits of protective helmets. Past experience has shown that allowing protective wear – like the face-mask at the penalty corner – simply increases the degree of danger players protected with equipment are expected to accept.

Actual hockey player of Perth  Posted at 10:21 AM May 19, 2012

   Penalty corners are another story all together I believe in the higher grades the posties should have to wear a mask and with saying that everyone that plays hockey know the risk and still choose to put themselves in the line of fire. Rules state everything goes in the D IF you are having a direct shot at goal if you choose to stand there knowing full well that’s the rule they are there at their own risk. It’s not a wimpy sport if you can’t deal with it don’t play it and stay at home and knit.

Although the above views could reasonably be described as inaccurate and extreme they are not at all uncommon. I have heard the ‘acceptance of risk’ meme even from senior umpires, when common sense should ‘tell’ everyone that no player is obliged to accept the risk of dangerous play from an opponent, because dangerous play is an illegal action. Illegal actions can never be ‘accepted’ as a legitimate risk. Everyone of course accepts that there is a risk of injury or worse from purely accidental actions – actions like the one that killed Lizze Watkins – and that it is impossible to legislate for incidents of this sort. But raising the ball at an opponent from within 5m is legislated for and such action is always to be considered dangerous play – there is no leeway for a different interpretation and no exception to this Rule (the only additional proviso is applied only during a penalty corner when the ball is raised towards an out-running defender; in those circumstances the ball is considered dangerously played only when it is raised at the defender at knee height or above – I think that this exception should be struck from the Rules and the raised ball propelled at an opponent from close range should be considered dangerous play in all circumstances. The Exception given in the UMB, that a ball raised towards an opponent at below half-shin pad height is not dangerous, contradicts the Rule and should also be struck out – as should other Rule contradiction in the UMB such as “forget lifted – think danger” because the evidence is that umpires don’t think “danger” they generally don’t even react to clear disadvantage following such offences)

The gentleman wrote  PS Wasn’t the ball that killed her was the ticking time bomb in her brain that got knocked enough to rupture. Get all facts before commenting”. I agree that it is helpful to have all the facts concerning the fatal incident, but with nothing else that he has written. I wonder where he got his ‘facts’ about the ‘ticking time bomb’, the nature of the incident and also his opinions about the Rules of Hockey “Rules state everything goes in the D IF you are having a direct shot at goal. The Rules of course state nothing of the sort, but if theses opinions are generally held, or held even by a minority, then hockey is not a safe sport. And it is not in ‘safe hands’ if administrators and Rule makers do not accept that it is potentially a very dangerous sport.

The drag-flick came into being as a way of circumventing the height restriction on the first hit shot during a penalty corner, The FIH should address the circumvention of a Rule which was (and is) intended to curb dangerous play, not ignore it. (Aside from prohibiting the use of a drag-flick when taking a penalty stroke, the drag-flick is not mentioned in the Rules of Hockey, it is not even listed in the Terminology along with the other strokes that are listed. Oddly, edge hits are not listed either).

July 5, 2018

We don’t want any change

I was prompted to write this article in response to this posting by Ernst Baart

Ernst writes “First off… I love our game as is! I think any future changes should be minimal. Especially changes affecting the core of our sport. Hockey is great the way it is. We should not change it. If people don’t get it, that’s their loss… Instead of changing the way we are, we should focus on teaching the sports fans about our game to help them understand and love the game as is.”

Okay, no argument with his passion, but how is (what as, why is) ‘our’ game, ‘seen’ in any one particular way? Is it? No, absolutely not. The view of it, and how it should be played and the Rules of it interpreted and applied, is far from an homogeneous one. In fact that is a huge understatement, this area is a battleground and the above declaration of “as is” is meaningless unless “as is’ refers only to the perception Ernst, as an individual, has of it.

I want to see enormous changes, some of of them rolling back present practice, which I see as mistaken (I do not want to see current practice ‘consolidated’ – the ‘in’ term for refusal to see error in application – I want to see it dismantled) and other changes, new ideas, which I believe would be significant improvements, put in place. In my view the present application of the ball-body contact Rule, as seen in the following video, has to be changed for the good of the game:-

And the application of the Obstruction Rule needs to be changed too. Ernst dismisses my suggestions as ‘square wheels’ and has said to me that he has no time to respond in detail (indeed respond at all) to any of them. (He responds in comment (shown after the cartoons below) to say that this is a personal issue with my attitude and behaviour, he won’t engage in discussion with me because I am too confrontational in my writing style. In other words he can find no rational way to refute my arguments for change, but will not allow himself to be persuaded by them by actually properly considering them.)

I listen to (read) the “no change” proponents and note that in the majority of cases the first thing they do is propose the changes they want made. Inside every conservative, rebel or revolutionary there is a potential dictator. For example. If people don’t get it, that’s their loss… Instead of changing the way we are, we should focus on teaching the sports fans about our game to help them understand and love the game as is.” Dictatorship is in human nature (survival of the fittest). But who is “We” (who owns the game), perhaps I should use ‘us’ and ‘we’ to express my own opinions where that might appear more powerful. (“We” is apparently the large number of people Ernst has spoken to who also don’t want any change – maybe one of them could explain why not)

Howls of anguish at official changes made (many so-called changes are not official, but inventions ‘imported’ via ‘practice) and calls for no more change are not a new phenomena, there are still people complaining about the change from natural grass to synthetic surfaces for all top-level hockey (they do however offer capital expense as a reasonable argument against this change, even if that discounts the huge maintenance costs of grassed surfaces ), but let us suppose that instead of launching a number of trials and Mandatory Experiments, which led to Rule changes in the period 1990 -1999 (the rule-book was rewritten and reformatted in 1995/6) the FIH HRB took notice of the “No changes ” mob and to date did nothing post 1991. Suppose that instead of major changes – like the introduction of the receiving exception to the Obstruction Rule (in 1993) and the abolition of Off-side, (completed by 1997) which were far from popular reforms at the time, but (or because) they made a huge difference to the way in which the game was played, the FIH Executive went ahead and adopted them into Full Rule – the (sic) FIH HRB to date recommended no changes from the Rules and Guidance to players and umpires as they were in 1991. What would hockey be like? What, that we now generally applaud as good hockey, would be entirely missing from the game?

I chose 1991 as a time to go back to because I have the 1991 rule-book (so I can check my memory of playing to those Rules) and because it is a date before nearly all the current top level players began playing hockey but most of them had been born by then, and also because by 1992 the all composite hockey stick had been accepted, a ‘landmark’ change that, ironically, is now one that is almost unnoticed “we have had composite sticks since the beginning of time” (just as we have always had synthetic surfaces to play on) is a young (rich) and misinformed view and these changes are rarely recalled in Rule change lists.

In 1985 I had to make a virtue out of necessity when designing a wooden stick with a set back head (the set-back was the aim of the design, the heel bend of the wooden stick-head having been made as tight as it could get without timber break-out or without using in excess of twenty laminations, could not be improved upon), the kink in the shaft, a by-product of bending laminated timber into the shape of a set-back stick head with an up-turned toe, had to be made a significant advantage, (a problem not appreciated in the early thinking about a set-back head). As it happened it did turn out to be of real advantage, (after a great deal of tweaking of shape – a tapered thickness – for rotational balance), in the stopping of the ball (and in scanning the field and in positional balance).

If you are not sure what the advantage is of not having to put the left hand to ground when stopping the ball while holding the top of stick with that hand, try this:- Using your normal left hand grip, put the left hand in contact with the ground with the handle/shaft of the stick horizontal and on or nearly in contact with the ground and across the front of your feet as if presenting a stick block to the ball. Now try to lift your left foot off the ground. Put the stick to ground in the same way but to your right hand side- now try to lift your right foot off the ground. You may have discovered that putting your hand to ground while holding a stick not only puts your head at the knee level of opponents – and a knee to the head hurts – it will pin one or the other, and sometimes both, of your feet, especially if you have not much bent your knees. In addition to that your scan vision will be non-existent or very limited. Not having to put the hand to ground to block the ball over a considerable length of the shaft is a very significant advantage.

The set-back head  produced later by Talon as a composite stick (called a Recurve), did not have a kinked shaft because that stick, being a moulded product, could be manufactured without one (and anyway I held a patent on the kink feature which Talon were decent enough, unlike others, not to breach). The introduction of the composite stick was not an easy process, TK struggled mightily to get it accepted,  (the same vested interests who fought against the introduction of my design, also fought very hard against the introduction of the composite stick) and, even when eventually approved for general use, composite sticks were initially not permitted to be used in international level matches. In making that announcement in his home country, Australia (in 1990), the then Chairman of the FIH Equipment Committee, the late Frank Zind, also declared that ZigZag sticks could not be used in international matches or on artificial surfaces (in Australia) even though these sticks had been in use without any such restriction for five years at the time. Thus began my long love affair with FIH bureaucracy and the investigation into who could and could not make the Rules to which the game is played (Not, as it turned out, Frank Zind, his ZigZag bans were just a personal invention ‘hung’ on his Chairmanship of the FIH Equipment Committee – a body that could not and still cannot, dictate or amend the Rules of Hockey).

So we start and are stuck with (after that long introduction), the 1991 mainly glass and carbon-fibre reinforced, wooden stick – maximum weight 28oz (now 26oz). I’ll make observations and suggestions about other Rules issues as I present them.

Off-side changed a lot during my playing ‘career’. When I started there had to be three defenders goal-side of an attacker for that attacker to be on-side at any time his side was in possession of the ball. The number was reduced to two around 1967 and the Rule made similar to the way it now is in soccer – two defenders goal-side of the foremost player at the time a pass was made. Then in the mid-1990’s the off-side line was moved from the half-way line to the 25 yard (23m) line (making correct umpire positioning difficult). Off-side was abolished in 1997 (with promise of the introduction of Rules to constrain the actions of attackers close to the goal – which never materialized – no compensation for this tactical loss to defences was ever enacted ). I would now like to see the introduction of a small goal zone, as well as a rewrite of part of the Rule concerning the playing of the ball at above shoulder height (forbidding the playing of the ball at above shoulder height when in the opponent’s circle) – as the least the FIH RC should offer for the loss to defences of the advantages of an Off-side Rule.…ewrite-rule-9-14/

Recounting the number of changes made to the Penalty Corner Rule would require a separate article. I would like to see it replaced with a time limited Power Play conducted within a defended 23m area. There has been talk of doing this for more than thirty years but no widespread trial or Mandatory Experiment has been conducted. The nearest to an official trial was carried out in the Australian Lanco 9’s but the fact that it was 9-a-side and the goals were made 1m wider for this tournament, made making any comparison of scoring stats worthless and that trial close to a waste of time. The only other suggested replacement, a 14m penalty hit, was trialed in South Africa and had to be abandoned because scoring rates got close to 100%.

Edge hitting was considered ‘back-sticks’ (not face-side so not permitted). The forehand edge hit has more recently been banned after having initially being permitted, but umpires almost routinely ignore the offence of forehand edge-hitting, even when such a hit is used to raise the ball when not shooting at the goal (the prohibition by the way specifically includes forehand edge hits made as shots at the goal). My view on edge hitting is that it should be permitted to either side of the body but height limited to no more than sternum height (120cms). There is supposed to be an issue concerning control of only the forehand edge hit, but in the mid 1990’s I umpired a match between an England U16 team and senior county players, at Bisham Abbey, in which several attempts to shoot at the goal, from a left inner position, with a reverse edge hit by an U16 England player, went out of play high in air over the right side-line. This level of control of the reverse edge hit (ignorance of the correct technique) was not uncommon among young players when the stroke was first introduced – but for some reason the FIH insisted on persevering with it – the ‘trial’ went on for three years and edge hitting was then accepted into Full Rule in spite of still vigorous opposition to it on grounds of danger. I have no doubt that with sufficient practice the forehand edge hit could be properly controlled. Look at reverse edge hitting now, good isn’t it? Consider those long head sticks from the turn of the 20th century, how did anyone play hockey with them? But they did.

 And very well too. There was however, because of changes made (nothing dramatic and ‘brilliant’ but a gradual evolution), improvements made. Hockey came to be as it was when I started playing in the mid 1950’s (By the ‘standards’ of the 1980’s the 1950’s stick-head was ridiculously long, but by the standards of the 2000’s the 1980’s stick-heads were ridiculously short). However despite (with a little practice) the much improved ball control they offered , many players refused for years to adopt the modern longer (hook and semi hook) heads which appeared post 1986. The original Hook, marketed by Grays after 1982, had a tiny initial take up – a good illustration of the ‘no change’ mentality, even when clear advantages could be demonstrated.

Playing or playing at the ball when it was above shoulder height was prohibited. I liked the later amendment which allowed a defender to try to save a high shot at the goal with the stick, but not the penalty imposed (mandatory penalty corner) if the shot happened to be off-target.

I am convinced, because there have been fatalities as well as a large number of serious injuries caused by sticks, that players should be prohibited from raising the stick-head to above shoulder height when they are attempting to play at the ball or have played at the ball with a follow-through and there is in either case an opponent present within playing distance of the ball. The Rule as it was initially framed prohibited any raising of any part of the stick above the shoulder in any circumstances, even the taking of a Free Hit – it was far too severe – but to delete it entirely instead of suitably amending it was a mistake (and a case of the usual extremes). Most of my suggested change is modification, rather than throwing out all current practice and starting again at an opposite extreme – a pattern of Rule – or ‘interpretation’ change we should all be familiar with (see the deletion of the Forcing Rule in the video above or the current application of the, once too severely applied, Obstruction Rule).

Aerial pass. In 1991 attention was paid to the relative positions of players – in the area it was perceived the ball would fall – at the time the ball was raised. if opposing players in the fall area were too close to each other for safety, the player who raised the ball could be penalised for play likely to lead to dangerous play (the player who raised the ball to fall in a potentially dangerous area was considered responsible for doing that – why not?). This was advice given to umpires which was never made Rule, but it should have been and still can be, with the proviso that if the same team player retreats from the landing area (3m?) before the ball arrives, to allow the receiver to accept the ball, there is then no need to penalise the offence. Deflections could be treated in much the same way except that there would be no intentional play likely to lead to dangerous play and failure to retreat would properly be penalised at the landing point. At present players are forbidden to approach an initial receiver but there is nothing said about moving away to allow the ball to be received – an offen discussed oversight that could easily be rectified, but the FIH RC always forget to make this change. Accidental deflections by defenders into their own circle would probably be more fairly dealt with by a free ball from the place of the deflection or a free ball to the attacking team centrally on the 23m line.

In 1991 when the ball accidentally lodged in the equipment of a goalkeeper or the clothing of a player a bully restart was ordered to be taken at the place the incident occurred, unless that was in a circle, in which case the bully was taken in line with the incident and 5m from the circle. There was nothing wrong with that Rule. The award of a penalty corner for such an incident involving a defender in the circle is in my view unnecessarily harsh. Similarly the award of a penalty corner for accidental deflection which sent the ball directly up high into the air was fairly dealt with by a bully restart (and now both need nothing more severe than a restart for the attack on the 23m line). The same is true of a ball intentionally played over the base-line by a defender – a restart for the attack on the 23m line is fair for something that is not even an offence.

The self-pass did not exist. I suggested this idea in 2001. It was introduced in the EHL in 2007 and as an Experimental FIH Rule in 2009 and confirmed into Full FIH Rule in 2011. It has never been applied as I envisioned it would be, being almost destroyed as an effective tactic within the opposing 23m area by the Rule prohibiting the playing of the ball directly into the circle from a free ball awarded in the opposing 23m area and also by a number of 5m requirements and restrictions associated with that which effect both the taker and opponents.

I proposed the Direct Lift at the same time as the Self Pass, but it was introduced a couple of years after the Self Pass was established. It’s a Rule that is very difficult to make a mess of applying – it is at the receiving end where the Rule application has unraveled See aerial Pass above.

The other Rules associated with what is misnamed the Free Hit have become a complicated mess when a free-ball is awarded in the opponent’s 23m area, especially when it is taken as a self-pass. The prohibition on playing the ball directly into the circle is inane. What is needed is a prohibition on raising the ball into the opponent’s circle (in any phase of play and from anywhere on the pitch) with a hit that propels the ball out of the direct possession of the hitter. In 1991 with very limited exception (over an opponent’s stick on the ground or over an opponent on the ground), any raising of the ball into the opponent’s circle with any stroke was prohibited – raising the ball into the circle over an opponent’s stick placed flat on the ground was also often penalised, umpires not allowing the permitted exceptions. Exceptions to Rules generally have a very poor history of observance in Rule application. An exception to a Rule is often either completely ignored (for example Rule 9.11 ball-body contact – not an offence unless) or becomes the Rule (Rule 9.12 – may be facing in any direction – which is now applied not only to a player receiving the ball, as it should be, but also, incorrectly, to a player in controlled possession of the ball, who is shielding it from opponents.

In 1991 we had Long Corners. Now because of the mess made of the Fee Hit Rule we have instead a restart for the attack on the 23m line, fortuitously, this is an improvement.

There are probably some Rules which were extant or not in 1991 or after, but are not now extant, that I have not remembered (the Own Goal came and went and we had the ‘gains benefit’ debacle which lasted from 2006 until 2015: but ball-body contact is generally penalised even when there is no intent and/or no advantage gained by the player hit with the ball), but as what there is under the heading of changes is substantial and this article is already longer than I had intended (when aren’t they) I will close the list. There is no reason to go beyond briefly pointing out that many of the changes made since 1991 have had consequences far beyond what was intended at the time they were made.

(Who, for example, would have imagined in 1993 that allowing a receiver to receive the ball while close ‘marked’ by an opponent, without immediately being penalised for obstruction, would rapidly lead (within five years) to the Obstruction Rule not being applied at all?. There is even an umpire coach in the USA who is currently promoting the idea that moving backwards towards and into the playing reach of an opponent, while shielding the ball from that opponent, cannot be obstruction unless the ball holder by doing this causes physical contact.(His justification is that this is the way FIH Umpires are applying the Rule, which is an inverted rational and no justification at all) In these circumstances it will, of course, usually (always) be the defender who will be penalised for any such contact.

Reminder list.   Wooden sticks.  Off-side.  Severe Obstruction Rule application. No edge hitting. No raising of the stick above the shoulder when playing or attempting to play the ball. No playing at the ball above shoulder height. Aerials could be considered likely to lead to dangerous play. Lodged ball = bully. High deflection = bully.  Raising the ball into the opponents circle prohibited.  Long Corners. No self-pass. No Direct lift from free ball. No zone restriction on the taking of a Free ball.

Are we happier now than we would be if no changes had been made post 1991? We don’t  know the answer to that question, at least not completely. If participants were not made aware of the possibility of a legal edge hit or Self-Pass how could they miss either not being introduced? I am pleased Ernst thinks the self-pass “a brilliant idea” but I have no way of knowing if any other suggestion I have made is good or a complete dud – it will depend on the application of it – in my view the way the self-pass is currently restricted makes that change an improvement to game flow but not as significant an improvement as it should do.

The frustration of having what seem to many people to be reasonable and important suggestions for change delayed for years or completely ignored or turned down without reason, can make them very unhappy, as can the useless and irritating chant “No change” when change is seen to be desperately needed.

The other side of the coin is the making of useless and irritating Rule changes, often it seems, without applying foresight or common sense or apparently just for the sake of change (A needless change, the name-change from Long Corner to Corner, followed a couple of years later by the senseless retaining of the name Corner for a 23m restart for the attacking team, is one such minor self inflicted wound) The Own Goal and the (dramatically opposite) ban on playing a ball from a free ball, awarded in the opponents 23m area, directly into their circle (and the necessarily attached 5m requirements and restrictions), are also examples of such irritations.

The cry of “No change” has, unfortunately, some foundation in reason, but not enough to erect a monumental shrine on it. We need changes, I am convinced the survival of the game depends on radical changes being made to it. Many participants (including me) who were playing in 1990, cringe when watching the present ‘product’, are appalled by some aspects of it, and are also dismayed that it is now coldly referred to by administrators as a product and that umpires now ‘sell’ decisions, instead of simply ensuring that they make decisions that are both correct and fair.

The FIH Rules Committee continue to ask for suggestions for the improvement of the game from all participants. Undoing much of the damage done to the Rules and interpretation since 1994 (or even 2004, the last major rewrite) could be a vast improvement.

See comments below:-

July 1, 2018

Headless chicken.

The Hockey Revolution or running around in circles like a ….

The announcement of the appointment by the FIH Executive of the latest CEO was made in March 2018 as follows:-

The tone of the announcement of the departure of Mr.Weil from FIFA was quite different:

Projected revenues of $5.65 billion over a four year cycle, which is an average of $1.4125 billion per year. Let’s put that in perspective. This is the income and expenses page from the audited accounts of the FIH in 2016. The figures below are in Swiss francs which at present are about on a par with the US dollar. 1SF = $1.01


The full accounts can be seen here:-


I need now to turn to the advertisement by the FIH of the post that Mr.Weil applied for. Please search carefully for any mention of how hockey is to be played.

(I originally posted a picture of the ad but it was deleted – which is possibly an FIH reaction to this article (but I don’t know that). The ad did have a FIH logo on it so the pretense for the deletion (which would have required communication between the FIH and WordPress) may be a copyright issue. I have been unable to post the picture a second time, so I present instead the text of the ad – don’t think the deletion unbelievably petty, it’s standard behaviour, even not contacting me to let me know what they were doing is normal FIH communication. The FIH desperately need – or needed – a Communications Director, maybe they still do).

Marketing 8: Cornmunicatilons Director — FIH 8 May

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) is seeking to appoint a Marketing and Communications Director who is ready to enter the fast-
paced world of hockey and demonstrate the FIH core values of being: inclusive, optimistic, progressive and dynamic-

With 137 member Nationa| Associations and millions of fans around the world, hockey enjoys a strong global profile and following. You will become part of a talented team aiming to build upon this exposure with a mission to grow the game globally through targeted development work as part of F|H’s dynamic 10-year ‘Hockey Revolution’ strategy.

With further game-changing developments in the pipeline. including the introduction of a new portfolio of events in 2019, it is certainly an exciting time to be joining the FIH.

The successful applicant will lead the FIH Marketing and Communication steams. reporting directly to the FlH CEO-Marketing 8‘ Communications is responsible for all marketing campaigns, communications activities, digital and social

Job Description

Marketing 8: Communications Director— FIH (International Hockey

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) is seeking to appoint a

Marketing & Communications Director who is ready to enter the fast-
paced world of hockey and demonstrate the FIH core values of being
inclusive, optimistic, progressive and dynamic-

With “137 member National Associations and millions of fans around the

world. hockey enjoys a strong global profile and following. You will become part of a talented team aiming to build upon this exposure with media activities, international relations, event on—site media operations, image and branding

Overall responsibility:

Responsible for planning, development and implementation of all the FlH’s marketing strategies, marketing communications and public relations activities both external and internal.

Directs the efforts of the marketing and -communications staff and -coordinates at the strategic and tactical levels with the rest of the Leadership Team.

Key Responsibilities, Tasks and Activities:

– Responsible for creating, implementing and monitoring the FIH marketing and communications strategy to raise the profile, engage and grow the sport.

– Responsible for widening the FlH’s international influence through high quality stakeholder engagement. PR and international relations activities

– Responsible for ensuring that. hockey is a leading sport that meets ambitious targets in terms of online presence, fan experience and digital communities

– Drive strategy behind website, social media and new technology platforms to ensure that we remain number one choice for hockey content

– Implement. highly recognizable brands that deliver a compelling glo-bal image and signifi cantly in-crease market share

– Direct campaigns for FIH event.s and activities through FIH owned channels and partner channels

– Develop ongoing consumer insights programme to inform decision making and measure progress

– Broaden relationships with media and other key internal and external stakeholders to ensure seamless and positive communication between the FIH and these groups

– Responsible for the achievement of Marketing and Communications -goals objectives, within budget

– Work with the leadership team to develop and maintain strategic perspective (based on marketplace needs and satisfaction) in organizational direction a.nd decision–making

– Ensure effective management within the marketing, communications and digital function

– Lead and manage agencies and freelance resources

Requirements, Education and Experience:

– Demonstrated experience, skills and knowledge of marketing, communications and digital at a strategic level.
– Comprehensive understanding of power of -content (video, data, etc)

– Strong: track record of establishing: an-d managing brands

– Proven experience of risk and reputation communication management and working with international media. both re–
actively and proactively

– Experience developing and managing budgets

– Experience overseeing the design and production of print materials, digital materials and publications

– Commitment t.o working with shared leadership and in cross-functional teams

– Strong: oral and written communications skills

– Ability to manage multiple projects at a time

– Travel is required

Skills and Knowledge:

– Leadership qualities, with character and a sense of humour and well presented

– Capable of setting high standards of professionalism;

– Strategic thinker, capable of -contributing to- the big: picture

– Highly creative

– High level of honesty and integrity, discrete and ethical

– Strong negotiation, -conflict management and problem solving skills

– Positive, flexible and optimistic approach, able to quickly adapt to the changing: nature of work
– Well-organized, strong time management skills

– Provide managerial and administrative leadership, capable of building a high performing team

The FIH is an equal opportunity employer and welcomes applications from all qualified candidates. We thank all applicants, but only those considered for the position will be contacted-

FIH ad

After that lengthy introduction I now turn to the release, on the 29th June 2018, of interview notes, from the FIH Press office, which prompted me to write this article. I don’t have much to say following this.

Reflecting on his first three months in charge, new International Hockey Federation (FIH) CEO Thierry Weil gives his first interview in which he reflects on his move from the world’s largest international sports federation, FIFA, to head of a sport that has been working hard to innovate and grow in recent years.

One of his first observations has been the passion that people within the FIH have for their sport. This, he considers, is both a blessing and challenge. He explains:“From the President to the Executive Board to the office staff, there is a passion for the sport that comes from lifelong involvement. For some people, they have been in hockey their entire lives and their parents were involved in the sport before them.”

For Weil, this is somewhat at odds with the concept of a ‘Hockey Revolution’. ‘The term ‘revolution’ means dramatic change, so for me, as an outsider, a revolution within the sport is an exciting prospect but it’s not easy to implement because the passion for the sport makes it difficult to introduce too much radical change.‘

‘The Hockey Revolution is an ambitious mission but it opens a lot of possibilities in view of new initiatives and different approaches.‘

But being an outsider and a newcomer to the sport has its advantages. ‘I can ask stupid questions or have crazy ideas that would actually fit in with the idea of a Hockey Revolution. They are the questions that those within the sport would never dream of asking. It means I can have conversations that at least will open people’s minds to new ideas.‘

For Weil, the three words that drew him to the role of CEO were ‘FIH Pro League‘, and his views on this are outlined in the second part of this interview to be published shortly. However, not surprisingly for someone brought up in the world of football, while the FIH Pro League is a thrilling initiative, it is the World Cup that remains the number one event.

‘I see the World Cup as the pinnacle. It is the biggest event. The Olympics is also big but the World Cup is an FIH event and so must be the top. And it has so much commercial value —two World Cup events in a year is great commercially as well as for the sport’s profile.‘

Reflecting on the Hockey Revolution, how dramatic will it be under its new leader?

‘The Hockey Revolution is an ambitious mission but it opens a lot of possibilities in view of new initiatives and different approaches,‘ says Weil. “I think that the way to increase the popularity of the game is to make it simple to play
and easy to understand.‘

Weil cites two areas, aside from the FIH Pro League and the Hockey Series, in which the game can grow commercially: the development and spread of the short-form version of the game, and the introduction of exhibition matches in
cities, so that people can just turn up and watch the sport as they are walking around town.

These initiatives will help increase the fan base and participation rates, which in turn will have a positive knock-on effect on FlH’s ability to find commercial partners. To back up these ambitions, in 2018 and 2019 FIH will invest more than ever in its dynamic broadcast and content strategy, with the aim of raising the quality of coverage. This will include features that will help spectators understand the game better.

Three months in and Weil is a huge fan of the sport. He says hockey has great potential to grow, develop and lead the way in innovation. At its heart is the fact that it is both a team sport and a sport that is enjoyed and played equally by men and women, of all ages and ability.

“Hockey has already taken a big step forwards over the past few years,‘ says Weil, and, while it might not be a revolution in the strictest sense of the word, he is excited to be leading hockey into the brave new world of commercial sport.

The FIH obviously hired Mr.Thierry Wield to obtain money, particularly Tournament sponsorship money, for the FIH (that is very clear from the job description). With a total operating income of around $11,000,000 the FIH Executive would  ‘prostrate themselves on the ground’ before a man they thought might be able to perhaps double that amount, and he is a man who is used to securing large sum long term sponsorships. But it bears repeating that FIFA had a $500,000,000 sponsorship shortfall in the last four year cycle and an operating loss of $122,000,000 in 2015. We are not told in the articles what the total sponsorship revenue of FIFA was in that or any other, year.

What Thierry Wield is not, and this is also very clear, is somebody who knows anything at all about field hockey. His remarks about the passion participants have for the game and the fact that it is played over a great age range by both genders, are the level of research that could be done in a few hours on Google or Wikipedia by an elementary school pupil writing a project essay. It is likely that prior to his application to be CEO of the FIH he had never seen a hockey match played. Yet he appears to want to be involved in making hockey simple to play (even though that is not part of his job description) obviously other people must undertake this task if it is considered necessary – but who?. Is it necessary or desirable to make hockey easier to play? I don’t think this is a priority, like tennis, hockey requires a basic level of competence which players must work hard to achieve if they are to enjoy playing the game. The development of a high level of skill is an ideal that is aspired to by younger players (there are ‘stars’ to emulate), not an impediment that stops them taking up the game. Players who do develop the necessary skills are proud of their achievements and want constantly to improve upon them. The presence of these skills is one of the main reasons people follow hockey.

Thierry Wield has picked up the ‘Hockey Revolution’ jargon but has no more idea what it means than any of the rest of us who have been subjected to the term have. I have absolutely no idea what it means, other than going around in circles.  I must profess to ignorance but other than ‘Back to hockey’, the development of ‘Walking hockey’ and ‘One Thousand Hockey Legs’ (the latter two both initiatives by individuals), I can’t point to a new example of the ‘Hockey Revolution’ in action that the FIH could be proud of or one that is creating revenue. The Pro Hockey League is floundering and Hockey 5’s is not yet established (will Hockey 5’s really be the face that hockey presents to the world at future Olympic Games? I believe that any suggestion that soccer be presented as a five-a-side game at future Olympics would ‘take off’ like a lead balloon and hockey should reject it for the same reasons soccer would). Five-a-side is a useful tool for introducing the game at school level (it’s economical because it uses small pitches and that makes it viable /attractive for the wide-scale introduction of hockey into schools. particularly State schools, which is something that desperately needs to be done) but I would not like to see 5-a-side replacing the present full pitch game.

How do we make the game easier to understand? Simple: ensure that it is played to the Rules of Hockey published by the FIH Rules Committee, while also ensuring that those Rules are consistent and sensible – but that is were I came in about twenty-five years ago. Describing the task is easy, achieving it is proving very difficult.

April 20, 2018

Why facts don’t change what we think and believe.

Confirmation bias and perseverance of opinion despite conflicting facts.

Changing opinion and practice an ineffective approach

I liked to believe that I was communicating with hockey participants when I wrote blog articles in which I explained how application of the Rules of Hockey was different from what was given in the FIH published Rules, and I also believed that by communicating this fact, change to much of what is now common practice could be brought about.

I was communicating, but not in a way that would put into effect the changes, I was able to demonstrate with facts, what changes needed to be made to align the practice with the Rules.

In fact pretty much the opposite has happened. Those who held views I demonstrated, by reference to the Rules (facts) and video (showing umpires doing the opposite) to be in error, became even more entrenched in their views and in their turn they attacked me, via social media, as an isolate with either outmoded or bizarrely advanced ideas (suggested rewrites) about the Rules to which the game should be played .

The effect of this was to isolate me, I was (am) called confrontational, argumentative, unyielding etc.etc. and I came to believe I am when writing, although, in ‘real life’, I am an easy going and sociable person. This attacking naturally caused me to become confrontational and argumentative in my writing (or more so) and thus, not a poor communicator (my messages are clear enough), but an ineffective one.

The reaction to anything I have written in the last few years has been, by enlarge, (I have a few supporters) to disregard it simply because I and not somebody else wrote it* – very few are taking any notice of the changes suggested, certainly not sufficient numbers to put them into effect.

* I vividly recall that Ric Charlesworth wrote an article, prior to the Athens Olympics (where he was coach to the Australian women’s team), on the raised flick shot at the goal, in which he asked for clarity from the FIH about dangerous play. It was widely acclaimed to be the writing of a brilliant innovative thinker and he got widespread support, there was even a Rule change, which lasted for a couple of years before fading away under ‘interpretation’. What he wrote was almost word for word (this was pointed out to me by someone who kindly sent me a copy of his article) what I had been writing on the same subject for several years before that.  All I got for my efforts was abuse.

Those who skim what I have written (they admit they do not properly read anything I write), disagree with it pretty much as a reflex or even in advance of skimming, without explanation (without offering any tangible reason for their disagreement) and without offering any argument against my proposals or in support of an alternative change. They have no ideas of their own to offer (even when they accept that some change is necessary): that is very frustrating.

The following article has given me an insight into what I have been doing wrong, but not what in practical terms to do about it

An article by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Elizabeth Kolbert has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999. She won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for the Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

In 1975 , researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented With pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person Who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times.Others discovered that they Were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

As is often the case With psychological studies, the Whole setup was a put-on.Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s oflice—the scores Were fictitious. The students Who’d been told they Were almost always right Were, on average, no more discerning than those Who had been told they Were mostly Wrong.

In the second phase of the study, the deception Was revealed. The students Were told that the real point of the experiment Was to gauge their responses to thinking they Were right or Wrong. (This, it turned out, Was also a deception.)

Finally, the students Were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and hoW many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well, significantly better than the average student, even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those Who’d been assigned to the loW-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that Was equally unfounded. “Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

A few years later, a new set of Stanford students Was recruited for a related study. The students were handed packets of information about a pair of firefighters, Frank K. and George H. Frank’s bio noted that, among other things, he had a baby daughter and he liked to scuba dive. George had a small son and played golf. The packets also included the men’s responses on what the researchers called the Risky-Conservative Choice Test. According to one version of the packet, Frank was a successful firefighter who, on the test, almost always went with the safest option. In the other version, Frank also chose the safest option, but he was a lousy firefighter who’d been put “on report” by his supervisors several times. Once again, midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs. What sort of attitude toward risk did they think a successful firefighter would have? The students who’d received the first packet thought that he would avoid it. The students in the second group thought he’d embrace it.

Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case,the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.

The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone Who’s followed the research or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today knows,any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did We come to be this way?

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate. Cooperation is dificult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of View prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half Were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.

The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. Both studies—you guessed it—were made up, and had been designed to present what were, objectively speaking, equally compelling statistics. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favor of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile.

If reason is designed to generate sound judgments, then it’s hard to conceive of a more serious design flaw than confirmation bias. Imagine, Mercier and Sperber suggest, a mouse that thinks the way we do. Such a mouse, “bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats around,” would soon be dinner. To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats—the human equivalent of the cat around the corner—it’s a trait that should have been selected against. The fact that both we and it survive, Mercier and Sperber argue, proves that it must have some adaptive function, and that function, they maintain, is related to our “hypersociability.” Mercier and Sperber prefer the term “myside bias.” Humans, they point out, aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.

A recent experiment performed by Mercier and some European colleagues neatly demonstrates this asymmetry. Participants were asked to answer a series of simple reasoning problems. They were then asked to explain their responses,and were given a chance to modify them if they identified mistakes. The majority were satisfied with their original choices; fewer than fifteen per cent changed their minds in step two.

In step three, participants were shown one of the same problems, along with their answer and the answer of another participant, who’d come to a different conclusion. Once again, they were given the chance to change their responses. But a trick had been played: the answers presented to them as someone else’s were actually their own, and vice versa. About half the participants realized what was going on. Among the other half, suddenly people became a lot more critical. Nearly sixty per cent now rejected the responses that they’d earlier been satisfied with.

This lopsidedness, according to Mercier and Sperber, reflects the task that reason evolved to perform, which is to prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group. Living in small bands of hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were primarily concerned with their social standing, and with making sure that they weren’t the ones risking their lives on the hunt while others loafed around in the cave. There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments.

Among the many, many issues our forebears didn’t worry about were the deterrent effects of capital punishment and the ideal attributes of a firefighter. Nor did they have to contend with fabricated studies, or fake news, or Twitter. It’s no wonder, then, that today reason often seems to fail us. As Mercier and Sperber write, “This is one of many cases in which the environment changed too quickly for natural selection to catch up.”

Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human mind functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions. They begin their book, “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” (Riverhead), with a look at toilets.

Virtually everyone in the United States, and indeed throughout the developed world, is familiar with toilets. A typical flush toilet has a ceramic bowl filled with water. When the handle is depressed, or the button pushed, the water and everything that’s been deposited in it gets sucked into a pipe and from there into the sewage system. But how does this actually happen?

In a study conducted at Yale, graduate students were asked to rate their understanding of everyday devices, including toilets, zippers, and cylinder locks. They were then asked to write detailed, step-by-step explanations of how the devices work, and to rate their understanding again. Apparently, the effort revealed to the students their own ignorance, because their self-assessments dropped. (Toilets, it turns out, are more complicated than they appear.)

Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

“One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.

This borderlessness, or, if you prefer, confusion, is also crucial to what we consider progress. As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on,say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amounted to much. When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.

Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain. Its one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about. Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the US. should react, and also whether they could identify Ukraine on a map. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention.(Respondents were so unsure of Ukraine’s location that the median guess was wrong by eighteen hundred miles, roughly the distance from Kiev to Madrid.)

Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach Write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration

“This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. The two have performed their own version of the toilet experiment, substituting public policy for household gadgets. In a study conducted in 2012, they asked people for their stance on questions like: Should there be a single-payer health-care system? Or merit-based pay for teachers? Participants Were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they agreed or disagreed less vehemently.

Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark World. If we or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, We’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”

One way to look at science is as a system that corrects for people’s natural inclinations. In a well-run laboratory, there’s no room for myside bias; the results have to be reproducible in other laboratories, by researchers who have no motive to confirm them. And this, it could be argued, is why the system has proved so successful. At any given moment, a field may be dominated by squabbles, but, in the end, the methodology prevails. Science moves forward, even as we remain stuck in place.

In “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us” (Oxford), Jack Gorman, a psychiatrist, and his daughter, Sara Gorman, a public-health specialist, probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves. Their concern is with those persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false but also potentially deadly, like the conviction that vaccines are hazardous. Of course, what’s hazardous is not being vaccinated; that’s why vaccines were created in the first place. “Immunization is one of the triumphs of modern medicine,” the Gormans note. But no matter how many scientific studies conclude that vaccines are safe, and that there’s no link between immunizations and autism, anti-vacinators remain unmoved. (They can now count on their side sort of. Donald Trump, who has said that, although he and his wife had their son, Barron, vaccinated, they refused to do so on the timetable recommended by pediatricians.)

The Gormans, too, argue that ways of thinking that now seem self-destructive must at some point have been adaptive. And they, too, dedicate many pages to confirmation bias, which, they claim, has a physiological component. They cite research suggesting that people experience genuine pleasure, a rush of dopamine when processing information that supports their beliefs. “It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong,” they observe.

The Gormans don’t just want to catalogue the ways we go wrong; they want to correct for them. There must be some way, they maintain, to convince people that vaccines are good for kids, and handguns are dangerous. (Another widespread but statistically insupportable belief they’d like to discredit is that owning a gun makes you safer.) But here they encounter the very problems they have enumerated. Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science. “The challenge that remains,” they write toward the end of their book, “is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief”

“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” Were all written before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon. Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring. ⋄

So now what do I do? Give up? That’s not my style but nor is brown-nosing. There cannot be however much advance towards change without net-working of some sort. But how? One problem is that I do not know of one other person who has suggested Rule changes to the main areas of Rule, Conduct of Play and Penalties, someone I could join with, someone who is unhappy with the way hockey is being officiated, who has said that and will continue to say that. This apparent contentment with the absurd is astonishing to me, that however seems to be the situation. But is it?…hink-and-believe/

October 5, 2016



I was asked (in October 2016) why I have “this obsession” with the Obstruction Rule, a question which struck me as odd at the time because I recalled having an opposite attitude to ‘umpiring practice’ in regard to obstruction when I first started to write about this Rule around 1998. My ‘obsession’ is with persistent illogical and unfair Rule interpretation and application (or the absence of application) and that carries across a number of Rules.

In a previous article, now deleted, I described going, in 1968, to a Hockey Festival in Bad Homberg, Germany and coming across the most extreme interpretation of the Obstruction Rule and what was called ‘turning’ that I had ever encountered:-

In a game I was watching, a ball was played from deep on the left flank for the left-winger to chase. This was in the days when there was an off-side Rule and the through-pass put the chasing left-winger well clear of opponents and on his way to the goal. The pitch was of shale and a bit uneven and the ball popped up causing the winger who was then close to it to over-run it. He turned to collect the ball and the umpire immediately penalised him for ‘turning’ and awarded a free to the opposing team. There was not another player within 15m of him. I was astonished, but the winger, (and everybody else on the pitch) accepted the decision as if it was correct, they were used to this interpretation and behaved as if it was proper.  (This sort of thing explains in part why many players now never bother to learn the FIH published Rules – they are an irrelevance in such circumstances and knowing what the Rules are just causes annoyance with the umpiring that is encountered).

I also had experience of an extreme interpretation of shielding in one of my own games. I was running in possession of the ball towards an opponent and as he made a forward lunge in an attempt to tackle me I side-stepped to my right and took the ball past him. We passed each other closely but without touching, his lunge caused him to be off-balance, with no chance of contact with the ball or of recovery of position. I was penalised for running between my opponent and the ball – apparently I should have passed by him beyond his theoretical playing reach, rather than his actual playing reach from his off-balance position. 

The Obstruction Rule up until the early 1990’s was strictly enforced, by some ridiculously over-strictly, but it was generally not as daft as what I encountered in Bad Homberg; it did not almost prevent the playing of the game. I later learned that these interpretations were peculiar to an individual who had control of umpire selection in that area of Germany and it was ‘local’ and applied only at club level.

The video clip below, which was produced in 2003 by the Australian HA, was probably the work of someone used to the pre-1992 application of the Obstruction Rule, but even by the understanding and common application (‘practice’) of the Rule in 1992 (before the ‘new interpretation’ was introduced )it is completely wrong. There is no obstruction shown in this part of the video clip. It has always been impossible to obstruct with the body a player who is not own goal-side of the ball and who is behind the play i.e. behind both the ball and the player in possession of the ball, as the player in red in the video is positioned. (and at no point does the blue player pull the ball back, as the commentator/coach declares she does – and so what if she did? Nor does she illegally shield it from her opponent with her body, it is always in front of her feet as she moves towards the opponent’s base-line).

I don’t know what players and umpires made of this video when it was first produced. Those who saw it probably just ignored it because by 2004 the Obstruction Rule was for all intents and purposes ‘dead’.  I then, quite quickly, found myself on the ‘other side of the fence’, going from having attacked the absurdity of turning or shielding when there was no-one turned on or the ball shielded from, to having to attack the equal absurdity of these fouls, often combined with physical contact, not being penalised at all, in fact the obstructed player often being penalised for a ‘phantom’ contact tackle.We now have an equally extreme opposite ‘umpiring practice’ of application of the Obstruction Rule: many umpires seem unaware of the existence of it.

Compare the above ‘obstruction’ with the below 2016 penalising of a ‘tackler’, bearing in mind that there has been no change to the Rule except a tightening up and clarification concerning positioning between an opponent and the ball by a player in possession of the ball, added to Explanation in 2009  – and there has been no announcement of any change of interpretation at all made by the FIH Rules Committee (or the FIH Hockey Rules Board) and no change made to the wording of the interpretation of the Rule since 2001 (and that was ‘housekeeping’ – removing the words “if necessary” which did not in any way alter the existing interpretation, so there has been no change of any significance since 1993, when the receiving exception was introduced).



My persistence in pointing out the 2009 amendment to the Explanation of application of the Obstruction Rule, on the Internet forums at and was rewarded with bans from both. George Brinks told me by email in 2009 that the Obstruction Rule was ‘dead’ and my insisting on writing about it was driving people away from his forum and he had therefore to ban me.

Below, is my notification of my permanent exclusion from – a typical umpire ‘interpretation’ by Magpie (a previous moderator), a convenient corruption of what I wrote (which was impure invention on his part) and a ban without any justification whatsoever.


Neither of these forum moderators were interested in (probably didn’t even read) what I was actually advocating, they just incorrectly assumed I was pushing for a return to the pre-1993 era interpretation of the Obstruction Rule. The following clips indicate what I consider to be both legal and attractive hockey – I am not at all opposed to turning on or with the ball as long as it is not obstructive play.

.The art of evasion with the ball, by turning with it or about it, is about timing, spatial awareness, footwork, ball-control (stick-work) and, to a lesser extent, speed – and when properly done, which is a difficult combination of skills, it makes for attractive hockey. Not at all what we are generally getting at present.

Because of the 2009 amendment to the wording of the Explanation of application (which simply rephrased and repeated what the Rule already contained, so it was just clarification), the present (2018) Obstruction Rule seems to be more prescriptive of an obstructive action by a player in possession of the ball than the Rule was in 2004 – but ‘practice’ is very different.

The follow clip shows an obstruction decision from a match played in 2013 that is every bit as extreme and bizarre as the ones I witnessed in 1968, but for different reasons and at the opposite extreme. There was an obstruction offence as well as two physical contact offences but all theses offences were committed by the NED defender the umpire awarded the free ball to. Neither of the ARG players committed an offence during this incident – but the NED played appealed for a decision and an obviously clueless umpire complied. The award of a penalty corner to the ARG team would have been an appropriate response from the umpire because the fouls by the NED player were intentional.

This swing from one far extreme to another has also occurred in other Rule areas I have also been accused at various times of being ‘obsessed’ with. I pointed out for a number of years prior to 2004 that raising the ball towards another player at any distance was an illegal action and also dangerous play if it caused evasive action, so at the time many of the drag flicks made should have been penalised –  fieldhockeyforum later (about 2006) effectively banned any discussion of the shot at goal as a dangerously raised ball – eventually, after many threads on the dangerously played ball, especially as a shot at the goal, had been prematurely closed or sin-binned, the ‘final word’, a ridiculous and inaccurate post by Diligent (Chris Horton), one of the forum moderators, has been pinned to the top of the Umpiring Section for years. 

The control of dangerous play had gone from the prohibition of any raising of the ball towards another player, a (poorly enforced) Rule extant in 2003, to the deletion of the Forcing Rule (2011) and collected along the way (2008) the invention that an on target shot at the goal could not be considered dangerous (which although dangerously absurd is ‘practice’ (I cannot yet accurately write “was practice”), and so far more powerful than any Rule published by the FIH.RC could ever be). The following video is an example where this “cannot be dangerous” invention seems to be the only possible explanation why the umpire did not penalise the shooter but awarded a penalty corner against a defender who was hit with the ball.


The ball-body contact Rule has been plagued with alternate reintroductions and deletions of ‘gained advantage’ and ‘intentionally’ (often in other forms such as, ‘gains benefit’ and ‘voluntarily’ or ‘deliberately‘). Sometimes these changes have been made to the Rule Proper and sometimes to the Explanation of application. Sometimes both terms have been used, at other times neither. At present the Rule Proper appears to conflict with the Explanation, so those who for some unknown reason (simply to get their own way in argument?) regard the Explanation as ‘notes’ and not as direction and apply the Rule in an entirely different way to those who read and apply the Rule using all the provided instruction (which is obviously what is intended by the FIH RC when giving such instruction). Yet others ‘cherry-pick’ the Explanation, so the ball-body contact Rule is now applied as severely, and as illogically, as I saw the Obstruction Rule (according to local ‘practice’) being applied in 1968 – to the point of ruining the game (largely because the offence of forcing is no longer applied, as it is supposed to be, using “other Rules”).

Here is a sample of umpire coaching (also by Chris Horton who, incredibly, is a level one umpire coach) published in a County Hockey Umpiring Association Handbook in 2009, a time when ‘gains benefit’ was not in the Rule Explanation. The criteria for offence were a voluntarily made contact or positioning with intent to use the body to stop the ball.

The notes to the foot body rule 9.11 say it is an offence ‘only’ when contact with the ball is ‘voluntary’, but in practice an accidental contact that alters the balance of play is just as much an offence as deliberately playing the ball with a foot or the body.

This is just one example of interpreting rules consistently with your partner and with other umpires the teams will have. Sometimes their interpretation will differ from how the rule seems, to you, to read. But you must umpire play their way, and never apply your own version. If that leaves you uncomfortable then a bit of lateral thinking should soon enough make the same sense of it for you as it does for everyone else.

  So “in practice”, according to the above opinion (and employing “alters the balance of play” in place of ‘gains benefit’), the Rule can be applied in a way that is the opposite of what a reading of the Rules of Hockey would lead any reasonable person to expect. And it is still umpired in that way; isn’t that wonderful? If the above advice to new umpires strikes you as perverse you would be astonished by an account of how ‘gains benefit’ came to be continued to be applied after 2006 despite the fact that the FIH Rules Committee had deleted it on issue of the 2007-9 Rules of Hockey. ‘Gains advantage’, the replacement of ‘gains benefit’, did not appear in the Rules of Hockey until 2016  (effective from May 2015 by order via a FIH Circular) but, ‘practice’ following Umpire Managers’ or Tournament Directors’ instructions was always ‘the Rule’, not what was printed in the rule-book. “Don’t think, just do as you are told”.

Then we have the Rule on the raised hit, which started out as a prohibition on the raising of the ball into the circle with a hit. That prohibition after many see-saw changes, was extended to all raising of the ball into the circle and then deleted (the usual extremes, all or nothing). The present Rule on the intentionally raised hit (which should not have been introduced in its present form, all that was needed was a height limit to prevent the long high chip hit) has been undermined to the extent that it is virtually ignored because of the forget lifted-think danger advice in the UMB. which has become ‘practice’  (it is common to also ignore any danger or disadvantage to opponents resulting from a raised hit

(I have more than one example on video of a player using a hard forehand edge hit to lift the ball at high velocity into the opponent’s circle – two deliberate offences – and that player’s team being awarded a penalty corner because the ball was deflected by one defender into the body of another).

The ball is not raised very high in this example but it was still raised illegally (intentionally) and with an illegal stroke, and these fouls disadvantaged the opposing team.

The Rule on the falling ball has been messed up by firstly, change to the wording of  the second clause of the Dangerous Play Rule  …or leading to dangerous play ( from ...likely to lead to dangerous play) and secondly, by ignoring this clause. Poor wording of Rule 9.10. (for example, the deletion of “at the time the ball was raised” from the Guidance) has resulted in different views on the placement of a free ball awarded for danger or other contravention following a scoop pass (an aerial), and an attempt to make a ‘one size fits all’ type of decision about that placement for at least three very different scenarios – which is absurd – but ‘practice’. 

And it goes on. I have had sufficient ‘Rule obsessions’ to obsess about a different one every day of the week. All a complete waste of time of course, but that is what games are for, to occupy our time and to prevent us using our intelligence on more important matters.

I no longer enjoy watching hockey, the officiating at the Rio Olympics made me cringe as did much of the play, and I am also at the point when I consider writing abut the Rules of Hockey and the application of them to be a waste of my time.  The apathy and complacency so far encountered in response to what I have written previously hardly makes it worth bothering. I am dismayed that apparently intelligent umpire coaches coach according to “what FIH Umpires are doing” when much of what these umpires do, is not only not Rule compliant, it is extreme and bizarre and wouldn’t get them approval in a watching for promotion from novice to Level One qualification. I am extremely irritated by calls for a period of ‘consolidation’ with no changes to the Rules.




October 31, 2015

Rewrite: Rule 9.12. Obstruction.



A suggested rewrite  of a Rule of hockey. Obstruction

The current 9.12

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

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this is third party or shadow obstruction). This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper or player with goalkeeping privileges) when a penalty corner is being taken.

Action. Amendment.

Reason. The Rule is a fundamental element for the fair conduct of a non-contact game and is at present almost totally ignored due to deviant interpretation of Rule purpose and word meaning.

Comments and suggestions are invited.

The Obstruction Rule in effect obliges a player in possession of the ball in contested situations to move the ball beyond the reach of opponents (by dribbling or passing) and to possess the ability, the stick-work and footwork skills, to retain the ball while keeping the ball open to opponents who are competing for it.

Hockey is not like soccer in this respect: soccer is a game which permits physical contact in challenges for the ball and also allows a player in possession of the ball to use the body to shield it from opponents and even use the body to hold them off, to prevent them from playing at the ball – hockey Rules permit neither physical contact nor ball-shielding. That naturally means that hockey is more difficult to learn to play properly than soccer is, but for a competent player in possession of the ball, playing hockey without an Obstruction Rule is akin to playing tennis without an net – it requires little skill and the side/player in possession will almost have a huge advantage. Keeping possession of the ball when there is no obstruction becomes for experienced players almost as easy as it is in basketball, but hockey then becomes duller than basketball (which has generally unenforced physical contact Rules) because of the time, shooting and zone limits imposed on basketball players, to prevent endless possession by one side, do not exist in hockey.

The suggested rewrite below is basically the Rule as it now exists, it adds only a clarification of “move into” and the concept of an ‘on-side’ tackler to the existing Rule – the latter something which has always been there but never stated – and restores the original “must move away” in place of the present “is permitted to move off”: a clear instruction replacing an empty statement, empty in that “is permitted to move off” is neither prohibitive or directive and therefore serves no purpose at all – except to confuse.

The suggestion has been made as explicit as I could make it, even at the cost of repetition. I have tried to avoid ambiguity. The suggested Rule is of about the same length as the original ‘new interpretation’, (the misnomer give to the guidance which contained the exception to the Rule allowed to a receiver of the ball that was introduced in 1993 – it was (and is) an exception to the Rule not a new interpretation of the criteria for an obstruction offence, which remained (and remains) unchanged) which was previously contained in the Rule Interpretations section in the back of post 1995 rule-books up until 2004.


Rule 9.12  Players must not shield the ball from an opponent with any part of the body or with the stick in a way that prevents or delays that opponent playing directly at the ball when that opponent would otherwise be immediately able to do so.

Shielding the ball to prevent an opponent playing at it is called obstruction and is an action contrary to this Rule of Hockey..

A player in possession of the ball illegally obstructs an opponent with his body or stick when:-

the opponent is level with or own goal-side of the ball (‘on-side’ of the ball)

the ball is within the playing reach of the opponent who intends to play it

the opponent is demonstrating an intent to play at the ball  

the only reason the opponent cannot immediately play directly at the ball is because the direct path to it is obstructed by (any part of) the body or stick of a player in possession of the ball.

Obstructive ball shielding is therefore an offence that has to be forced by an opponent while demonstrating an intent to play at the ball or while trying to position to tackle, who in so doing shows that the direct path to the ball is obstructed; that is the opponent who is intent on playing at the ball is prevented from doing so only because the ball is shielded by the body or stick of the player in possession of it.

An obstructive offence may be forced by an opponent immediately that opponent approaches to within playing reach of the ball and demonstrates an intent to play at it.

A player in possession of the ball

who is :-

(a)   faced with an ‘on-side’ opponent who is within playing distance of the ball  and who is attempting to play at the ball, may not move (turn) with or on the ball to position any part of the body and/or the stick between the ball and that opponent with the effect of blocking that opponent’s direct path to the ball and by this means or by moving the ball to the same effect, prevent or delay a legal attempt by an opponent to play at the ball. Moving to maintain a ball shielding position, for example ‘shunting’ sideways to continue shielding the ball from an opponent moving in the same direction is not legitimate “moving off” or “moving away” unless the speed of such movement is such that the player in possession of the ball rapidly moves the ball beyond the playing reach of an opponent who is trying to position to tackle.  

A player in possession of the ball who is:-

(b)   beyond the playing reach of a closing opponent who turns on or with the ball to position the body between that opponent and the ball or moves the ball to the same effect IS NOT allowed the time and space leeway, after the opponent has closed to within playing distance of the ball, that is exceptionally, given to a player in the act of receiving and controlling the ball. The ball must be kept beyond the playing reach of a closing opponent OR before the opponent is obstructed in his or her attempt to play at the ball (has come within playing reach of the ball and tried to play it) the player in possession of the ball must again turn on or with the ball to face opponents or position the ball, so that it is no longer shielded. The alternative is to put and keep the ball beyond the playing reach of the previously closing opponent

A stationary or slow moving ball-holder who obliges an opponent who is intent on playing at the ball to ‘go around’ a ball-shielding position to attempt to play at the ball, when that opponent would otherwise be able to play at the ball directly, is obstructing that opponent. (This is almost the opposite of the ‘onus’ on the tackler to position to tackle by going around a ball shielding opponent, which was contained in the original (1993) Rule Interpretation – the onus on a ball holder not to obstruct i.e. the Rule, was in that interpretation ignored)

Within the criteria given above, an Obstruction Offence occurs when a player in possession of the ball, whether moving or stationary, positions the body in relation to the ball or the ball in relation to the body, so that the execution of a legal attempt to play at the ball by an ‘onside’ opponent, who would otherwise be able to immediately play directly at the ball, is not possible without that opponent having to move around the body or stick of the player in possession of the ball in order to play at it.

A player in possession of the ball :-

must not while shielding the ball with any part of the body including the legs, move into the playing reach of an opponent or move bodily into an opponent, causing contact, or by moving towards an opponent while shielding the ball i.e. by leading the ball with the body, oblige an opponent to give way to avoid body contact (Rule 9.3).

may not interpose his body as an obstruction to an opponent. A change of direction by a half-turn of the body with this result may amount to obstruction. It should be noted, however, that even a complete turn does not constitute a breach unless an opponent has thereby been obstructed in an attempt to play the ball. (this wording is taken from previous Rule Guidance)


The Tackler.

A tackle may not be attempted from a position where physical contact will result (Rule 9.13), but obstruction may be demonstrated; it is in fact a requirement that obstruction is demonstrated for an obstruction offence to occur i.e. to demonstrate that a legal attempt to play at the ball is being prevented by an opponent’s ball shielding.

A player who is within playing distance of the ball and intends to make a tackle, but who is not in a position of balance from which a tackle attempt may be made, is for example, facing or moving or reaching in the wrong direction to play at the ball with a reasonable expectation of making contact with it with the stick, cannot be obstructed except as already noted, when evasive movement is forced to avoid physical contact being caused by an opponent in possession of the ball who is leading the ball with the leg or body and thus shielding the ball. When a ball holder moves into an opponent in either of the ways described in this clause the opponent who is being moved into is no longer obliged to demonstrate that an attempt is being made to play at the ball because such moving into will generally prevent a tackler (who may be forced to retreat to avoid contact) from attempting to execute a legal tackle.


The ‘Receiving’ Exception to the Rule.

Exceptionally, a player who is in the act of receiving and controlling the ball is during this action exempted from the possibility of a ball shielding offence.

A receiving player is permitted to receive the ball while facing in any direction and while either in a stationary position or while moving. Such a receiving player will not be obstructing any opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play at it, even if shielding the ball from that opponent while receiving it. The receiving player, however, having received the ball and controlled it, must in these circumstances then immediately either:-

a) pass the ball away or

b) move away from opponents with the ball to put and keep it beyond their playing reach and/or turn on or with the ball to face opponents, so that the ball is no longer shielded from them.

It will be necessary for a receiving player who elects  to turn on or over the ball, after the ball is in control or as the ball is controlled, to:-

a) make such a turn before an opponent is within playing reach of the ball or after having first taken the ball beyond the playing reach of the opponent or

b) create space for a turn having duped the opponent into moving or reaching in the wrong direction, before there has been any obstruction.


Once an opponent is within playing reach of the ball the only options then available to the ball holder will be:-

a) to either turn on the ball while moving the ball away from the reach of the opponent (which may be achieved with appropriate foot-work and stick-work ) or

b) to move away with the ball to put and keep the it beyond the opponent’s reach, and then to turn on or with the ball  – and/or to pass the ball away.


Once the ball has been received and controlled the receiving player may not,  in a way that shields the ball from opponents who are within playing distance of the ball and demonstrating an intent to play it, dwell on the ball in a stationary position or while so positioned move the ball to shield it with the stick or body and thereby prevent a legal attempt to play at it.

After having received and controlled the ball while facing towards his or her own defence, making feints over the ball while stationary or slow moving or ‘dribbling’, which comprises of ‘weaving’ from side to side without taking the ball beyond the playing reach of the opponent and while maintaining a ball shielding position (thus preventing an opponent from immediately playing at the ball or from successfully positioning to do so), will be considered an obstruction offence.

The receiving exception to the Obstruction Rule facilitates the receiving and controlling of the ball and continuation of play without the receiver who is facing towards his or her own baseline immediately committing an obstruction offence when closely marked by an opponent who is intent on playing at the ball – nothing more.

The ‘Manufactured’ Exception to the Rule.

A player in possession of the ball who plays it to the far side of an opponent (who is, for example, attempting to channel the ball holder or block the ball with the stick or execute a tackle) and then runs into that opponent claiming to be obstructed, has not been obstructed if there has been no movement with the intent to obstruct by the defending player. If there is physical contact the player who was in possession of the ball is in these circumstances the one more likely to have committed an offence. (This was a part of the previously deleted ‘Manufacturing’ Rule which should be restored).


Third-Party Obstruction.

A player who is not in possession of the ball who moves in front of or blocks the path of an opponent to stop that opponent legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing. This form of obstruction is known as third-party obstruction because the obstructing player often carries out this action so that a team-mate (the second party) has more time and/or space to reach and/or play the ball. It can also be regarded as an impeding offence or according to the circumstances as a physical contact offence.

It is not necessary for the obstructed player to be within playing reach of the ball at the time a third-party offence is committed, it is only necessary that but for the offence, the obstructed player would have been able to intercept the ball or would have been in a position to challenge a team-mate of the obstructing player for the ball and was denied that opportunity. This form of obstruction is often carefully planned to create passing space in mid-field and is often deliberately carried out during penalty corners to a) give the stopper and shooting player more time to set up and make a shot and b) to block line of sight to the ball to defenders. It is in the latter case often a very dangerous action. 

For there to be a third party obstruction It is generally necessary for the obstructing player to move to block the path to the ball of the obstructed player and third party obstruction cannot otherwise occur, but exceptionally, a player in possession of the ball may deliberately use a stationary team-mate as a shield by dribbling the ball very close to him or her so as to impose a compliant team-mate between the ball and an opponent who is intent on tackling for the ball – leaving the tackler, with the choice of going around or stopping or barging into the stationary third player i.e. in an obstructed position, unable to challenge the ball holder for possession of the ball.

Stick Obstruction 

The same principle applies to stick obstruction as applies to obstruction with the body. Positioning the stick between the stick of an opponent and the ball is obstruction if that action prevents the opponent playing the ball. It makes no difference if the stick of the player in possession of the ball is in contact with the ball or not. If, for example, the stick is positioned Indian dribble style with the stick-head over the top front of the ball in contact with and covering it, or the stick is used away from the ball to fend off the stick of a tackler as the tackler’s stick is moved towards the ball. Both these kinds of action are obstructive, if direct playing of the ball by an opponent, who is within playing distance of the ball and is attempting to play at it, is thereby prevented.

It might be asked “what is the point of a rewrite” if this:-

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

– back into an opponent

and these two complimentary statements:-

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. (a pretty good encapsulation of the Obstruction Rule) are already in place?

The answer is that what is written may seen perfectly clear but it is possible, as may be seen in most hockey matches, to either ignore it or interpret it in very different ways, so emphasis on purpose and intent and clarification of wording are required. (What for example, is the difference, and they have to be different to justify the inclusion of both in separate clauses, between back into an opponent and move bodily into an opponent ?).

A second answer is that “for evil to triumph it is only necessary that good people do nothing“. Calling deviant interpretation evil may seem overly dramatic, but I don’t want to see dribbling with the ball in hockey carried out in the same style as it is in basketball – backing into opponents to achieve a scoring position or to a ‘win’ a penalty for a ‘manufactured’ contact foul, but we are already well along that road and unless action is taken to remedy that, these practices will get much worse (although it is difficult to see how some of them could get any worse than they are now).  I am serious when I say that the game has been destroyed; it was not intended that opponents should be ‘eluded’ by shielding and backing in and that sort of play is not attractive or spectacular – i.e pleasant to watch.

The video clips below, two of hundreds of possible examples available, also illustrates why the Obstruction Rule needs to be written more explicitly than it is at present. The player in possession of the ball, who clearly obstructs his opponents several times, was not penalised for these offences in an international level match. The mistaken assumption Cris Maloney et al make (see article is to really believe or be prepared to accept, that if FIH Umpires are not penalising such obstructions then not to do so MUST be correct.




The ‘poster boy’ for the latest interpretation of obstruction (where there is apparently no such thing as obstruction even when there is physical contact caused by the attacker) is the shootout. The strength of this meme was illustrated when, in the BEL v ESP match during the 2018 WWC Michelle Joubert did penalise a shooter for backing in during a shootout – there was uproar – despite Joubert being perfectly correct.