Rules of Hockey. Muddling the Advantage Rule with ‘gains benefit’
Edited 26th, February 2014.
A post from an umpire describing a decision not to penalise a player for an unintentional ball-foot contact, which, although well intentioned, demonstrates how muddled umpiring practice has become.
Defender clears ball from in front of goal to team-mate just outside circle – it’s through a clear channel with no red attacker within 3 or 4 metres of the ball’s path. But it happens that a defender’s foot is in the way, which the ball clips then bounces on with no change in direction, and not much reduced pace – to the defender it was going to anyway.
“Foot” “PC” they are all shouting.
“No offence. Keep playing” I call.
The game ends 5 minutes later, with a mini-symposium for the entire attacking team: “Rule 12.1 says only to penalise when opponents are disadvantaged by an offence. That ball was going to blue with no red anywhere near. I saw the foot, but then the ball went to blue with still no red anywhere near. So we played on.”
Okay the decision was correct and the call was correct but the reference to an Offence and to Rule 12.1. , which is the Advantage Rule, during the ‘mini-symposium’ is bewildering, because that Rule is utterly irrelevant in the described scenario.
There was clearly no Offence, the ball-foot contact was unintentional – not made voluntarily – there was no choice as to whether or not to make the ball-foot-contact, no decision made to do so. When there is no Offence the umpire cannot decide that the side offended against were not disadvantaged by an Offence and pretend (or believe) that to be the reason he allowed play (in this case by the team of the player who made the ball-body contact) to continue. Here is the Advantage Rule.
12.1 Advantage : a penalty is awarded only when a player or team has been disadvantaged by an opponent breaking the Rules.
If awarding a penalty is not an advantage to the team which did not break the Rules, play must continue.
Clearly the Advantage Rule should not have been applied to the team of the player making the ball-body contact but (if it was applicable) to the opposing team. But the Advantage Rule throws up other confusions.
To make sense of them it is necessary to go to Rule 12. Penalties to find out under what circumstances a team penalty may be applied. Even here there is potential for muddle concerning ‘unintentional offence’, as an unintentional ball-body contact is not an Offence, but at least there is still mention of an Offence and not just the vague “breaking the Rules”
12.2 A free hit is awarded to the opposing team :
a for an offence by any player between the 23 metres areas
b for an offence by an attacker within the 23 metres area their opponents are defending
c for an unintentional offence by a defender outside the circle but within the 23 metres 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 etc. etc.
(I don’t want to go too far into ‘the swamp’ and possibly need to attempt to unravel the rational for a penalty corner awarded for an intentional Offence within the opponents 23m area – when an unintentional ball-ball contact is not an Offence at all – it may be necessary to invent expressions such as super-intentional or intentionally-intentional)
The wording of the Advantage Rule was unhelpfully changed from 14. Advantage : a penalty shall be awarded only when a player or team has been clearly disadvantaged by an opponent’s offence to the present Rule.12.1. (see above) in 2004, as part of the rewrite to clarify and simplify the Rules. The result has been vagueness and confusion about what is a breach of Rule (or a breaking the Rules) but not an Offence, and what is an Offence – that is a breaking of the Rules that may be penalised with a team penalty (the difference between a breach of Rule and an Offence in the case of Rule 9.11. is the intent of the player who makes the ball-body contact – without intent there will be a breach of Rule, because the word ‘intentionally’ has been removed from the Rule proper, but both ‘intentionally’ and ‘voluntarily’ are given in the explanation of the application of the Rule. (Restoring the word ‘intentionally’ to the Rule would remove what appears to be conflict between the Rule and the provided explanation of application of the Rule – and make the explanation of it a great deal easier).
(Intent is mentioned in only two Rules. Rule. 9.9. which concerns the lifted hit, and Rule 9.11. which concerns ball-body contact. Umpires have no problem with an accidentally raised hit not being seen an Offence -unless dangerous, but even when the word intentionally was in the Rule proper, had difficulty with accidental ball-body contact because of the misuse of ‘gains benefit’.
Some umpires insist on regarding the Rule and the provided explanation as separate and the explanation as only ‘notes’, or optional advice. This alone cause problems with consistency in application. It’s a very strange attitude as it does not seem to be taken in regard to the explanations of other Rules. The Obstruction Rule for example has (at the other extreme) been ignored largely because of the influence of Interpretation, most of which has been deleted for more than ten years).
Simply put there was no Offence in the incident described because there was no intent to make ball-body contact, the contact was accidental.
A free-ball or a penalty corner can be awarded only when there has been an Offence, except that – there are always exceptions – a penalty corner is awarded when:-
1) a defender deliberately players the ball over his own base-line
2) a defender plays the ball at above shoulder height when a shot is made at the goal and the ball is going wide of the goal
3) a defender is hit below the knee with a shot taken during a penalty corner.
(That lot could do with simplification, perhaps by scrapping them, they are all silly and unfair – #2 , will probably be removed soon anyway because of the introduction of above shoulder play)
The Advantage Rule is applied when there has been a breaking of the Rules but the side offended against can play on with advantage - or are not disadvantaged – a phrase the antonym of which ‘is disadvantaged’, is ‘high-jacked’ as an (inappropriate) substitute for ‘gained benefit’.
Penalty can be applied only when there has been an Offence (not just a breaking of the ball-body contact Rule, because the intent of the player hit with the ball has to be taken into consideration when determining if there has been an Offence). When there is no Offence the umpire cannot decide that the side offended against were disadvantaged or were not disadvantaged by an Offence, the umpire has no reason to intervene play should just continue.
It is clear from the account of his post-match justification of his decision that this umpire is still thinking in terms of of using ‘gains benefit’ (or disadvantaged opponents) to ‘create’ an Offence, seeing an accidental ball-foot contact as an illegal disadvantaging of opponents or as the gaining of an unfair benefit – (the retaining of the ball by the team of the player hit with the ball) – and then used ‘did not disadvantage opponents’ (no opponent was near), which was completely irrelevant in the absence of an Offence, to allow play to continue, He used ‘both sides of the same coin’ (whichever it was) in coming to a decision.
He then, in his post match “mini-symposium”, referred to the Advantage Rule to explain his actions to the players
The Advantage Rule could not have been employed unless there had been an Offence – which did not disadvantage opponents so that play could be allowed to continue despite the Offence. If the team offended against, are able to play on with a advantage after an Offence by opponents, they must allowed to do so. He allowed the team who had breached the ball-body contact Rule to play on – his decision was correct because there was no intent, but his choice of Rule and reasoning was not.
It was a cold day the players probably ‘switched off’ quicker than you did during the above necessarily convoluted (and deliberately repetitive) explanation, and so missed the bizarre applying of the Advantage Rule to the wrong team and the paradox of applying opposites, ‘gains benefit’ and the Advantage Rule to the same end.
Opposites?. Yes, the ‘gains benefit’ clause was (prior to 2007) applied when there had been an accidental ball-body contact and the team of the player making the contact were adjudged to have gained an unfair advantage. ‘The gains benefit exception clause therefore permitted the ‘creation’ of an Offence after an unintentional ball-body contact and allowed the interruption of play by a match umpire to penalise that ‘Offence’. (The ‘creation’ of an Offence from what was only a breach of Rule was an irrational but pragmatic solution to instances of accidental ball-body contact that were seen by the umpire as so unfair to opponents that play could not be allowed to continue)
The Advantage Rule, as pointed out above, requires an umpire to allow play to continue without penalty when there has been an Offence, if the opponents of the team of the player responsible for the Offence can do so with advantage. In application it’s the direct opposite of ‘gains benefit’ (which should not be applied in any case at present because the clause has been deleted).
The thinking did not matter in this instance because it did not effect the outcome – the decision made – but in other circumstances it could well do so and it is therefore necessary to understand the difference between allowing an advantage to be played by one team following an Offence by another and there being no Offence to penalise.
The fact that the player hit was in clear space and the ball-foot contact did not disadvantage opponents is completely irrelevant – there was no Offence. It should make no difference whatsoever to the decision if an accidental ball-foot contact did disadvantage the opposing team. Disadvantaging opponents is not of itself an Offence and there is no longer a ‘gained benefit exception clause with which to ‘create’ one when a team is disadvantaged because of an unintended ball-body contact by an opposing player.
Obviously the deletion of the entire ‘gains benefit’ exception clause, instead of amendment of it to make its application fair, was a serious mistake, but it is a mistake that has to be lived with and accommodated until the FIH Rules Committee rectify this error: which they must eventually do. It is not the task of umpires to invent Rules.
The FIH Umpires Committee and National Umpiring Associations are in a very good position to liaise with and to lobby the FIH Rules Committee for amendment to the Rules of Hockey if they see reason for change. These various bodies should since 2007 have resolved the ‘gains benefit’ issue in conjunction with the FIH RC. Let’s hope that any correction eventually arrived at (published in the rule book) will not take interpretation to another extreme – one that hasn’t really ever gone away since 2004 and also needs correcting if the game is to be fair and to ‘flow properly – the penalising of almost all ball-body contact. At present it is only very exceptionally that a ball-body contact is not penalised. How unusual it is for an umpire to call “Play on” after a foot contact by a defender in the circle for example, may be gauged by the fact that this umpire thought an account of this, otherwise unremarkable incident, worth sharing on an Internet forum.
A clearer – and correct – call could have been given by the umpire in the above described scenario. “Accidental – No Offence – Play on”.
The umpire did correctly call “No Offence, play on” and should be commended for that, many umpires – perhaps most – would have awarded a penalty corner ‘automatically’ without giving the matter any thought, never mind a second thought, following such a foot contact by a defender in the circle (it’s easy and it is now expected). But he needs to get his Rule application sorted out in his own mind. The use of the double negative ‘not disadvantaged’, constructed from the Advantage Rule, and the unnecessary muddling of that invention with ‘did not gain benefit’, does not make that sorting out easy. It is however very easy to find reason not to blow the whistle in such circumstances,
It is not always an offence if the ball hits the foot, hand or body of a field player. The player only commits an offence if they voluntarily use their hand, foot or body to play the ball or if they position themselves with the intention of stopping the ball in this way.
The above clause is not a good explanation of the current Rule position because the word always perverts the intent of it and should, logically, have been removed at the time ‘gains benefit’ was deleted. The syntax or phrasing is also poor, not least because it ‘plants’ the idea that it is only exceptionally that ball-body contact is not an Offence when the fact is the other way about. It is not an Offence just because there is ball-body contact. Prior to 2007 the exceptions were the gaining of an unfair benefit or intent (or both together), now the only exception to ‘no offence’ is intent, but the phrase “position themselves with the intention of stopping the ball in this way” is a conundrum for umpires, with a wide range of interpretation (personal opinion) used to ‘solve’ it and the word ‘voluntarily’ is given some very bizarre ‘interpretation’. (see http://wp.me/pKOEk-1xt )
That, however, is the published explanation of the application of the Rule provided in the rule book. It’s in the rule book for a reason, although what that reason might be seems to be “anybody’s guess”, it’s open to ‘interpretation’. In effect whatever decision an umpire makes will be correct: an absurd situation. The framing of Rule should be based on fairness and on the reasonable safety of players, not just on making umpiring easy or facilitating ‘no fault possible’ (anything can be justified in some way) decision making.