Field Hockey Rules: Dangerously played ball, shot at goal.

Rules of Hockey.

Dangerously played ball.  Shot at the goal.  Ignorance or stupidity?

Edited  13th July, 2017. Definition of ‘Shot at goal’ from Terminology added.

A question with poll posted on this forum. Here

My hope for this posted question and poll is that it is made ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and as ‘bait’; a leading article to generate the extremes of response that previous attempts to discuss the subject have and to point up the absurdities of the current application and interpretations so that they may be properly addressed.    

I have a query from a game I played today which I would like opinions on. The reason I ask is that the rules for shots being dangerous and whether or not they are on target are a bit confusing. I can’t tell if the rules have changed a lot over the last 10 years. of if there are just different interpretations.

 The scenario:
I am standing with about 4 yards diagonally our from the post. the ball is out with my team mate on the side line. I am facing him. He pings the ball across to me (parallel to the back line) I then do a sweep around to shoot on goal…
The ball goes about 5ft in the air and is on target – the ball hits a defender in the chest. he is standing about 1 yard off the line (so about 3 yards from me). The umpire blows for a foul saying that my shot was ‘dangerous because the defender did not have time to move away“. was this the right decision?
Other info:
The umpire acknowledged that the shot was on target and that it was a controlled shot (i.e. hasn’t deflected wildly off my stick or been miss-hit). The keeper was behind the defender. but not directly so. he would have had to pull of a decent save to stop the shot (personally I’d say it was maybe 70% likely to go in given the proximity and speed the ball was hit.
Curious as to the replies. especially umpires opinions.
Here are the answers given on the poll form, from unidentified individuals, by 2pm Saturday 25th June.
Shot survey

Given the current Rules 9.8. and 9.9. how could anybody, never mind the majority of the small number of respondents, think that the attacker did not commit an offence or that the defending team should be penalised, presumably for the gaining of an advantage? 

There is mention of interpretation in the posted questions, so this can be asked: – Is it possible that either Rule could be interpreted differently or even in the opposite way to what common sense and the emphasis on player safety should imply?  Yes it is.

Here are the relevant Rules:-

9.8 (with the first clause only of the explanation of application

Players must not play the ball dangerously or in a way which leads to dangerous play.
A ball is considered dangerous when it causes legitimate evasive action by players.

In the incident described the umpire, correctly, asserted that the defender had no opportunity to evade the ball and penalised the attacker for dangerous play. Why is this correct? Because the explanation (which is woefully inadequate because it is incomplete) does not state that a player who cannot take evasive action is not and cannot be endangered by a high raised ball, propelled at high velocity, into his or her body: it just gives one action that is (must be) considered dangerous play in a given circumstance.

The explanation, as far as it goes, covers those situations where evasive action is successfully taken and someone on the team of the attacker who propelled the ball might then claim “But that could not have been dangerous, he was able to get out of the way (and anyway he shouldn’t have been there)”  A claim that is still made frequently, especially when the ball has been propelled high at an opponent who is more than 5m from a shooter. (Again, that a ball that is raised high and at high velocity at another player who is within 5m must be considered to be dangerous play, does not mean that a similar ball propelled at an opponent who is more than 5m – 6m? 7m? –  from the player propelling the ball, cannot be endangerment and the striker cannot be in breach of Rule 9.8. – which makes no mention of height or distance: This is application of basic logical reasoning).   The whole thing is anyway ‘a crap-shoot’ of personal opinion because of the insertion of the word “legitimate” which can be interpreted in many, often opposing, ways. How that ‘crap shoot’ has been resolved (but it hasn’t) is described below. 

The 5m mentioned comes from the explanation of Rule 9.9. (A Rule and explanation of application that is such a mix and a mess of Rules that it makes me want to scream with frustration). This Rule should not have been introduced * and is now often ignored : following the instruction forget lifted -think danger given to those who have no idea what ‘danger’ means.

*[It was not necessary to introduce a blanket Rule to prohibit all intentional raising of the ball with a hit in all parts of the field. It would however be perfectly reasonable to place an absolute limit on the height to which a raised hit – intentionally raised or not – could be raised without penalty, (perhaps shoulder height subject as always to dangerous play at and below that height) to make impossible the near pitch length clip or chip hits the (sic) present (1987) Rule was intended to deter (the more accurate long scoop makes the clip hit obsolete anyway). It would also be reasonable to prohibit the raising of the ball into the circle with a hit (a hit away from the player hitting the ball), (a new version of a previous Rule ‘lost’ by deletion when the blanket ban on the raised hit was introduced), and also to prohibit hits raised within the circle that were not clearly intended as shots at the goal]. 

That aside, to resume:-

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.

Players are permitted to raise the ball with a flick or scoop provided it is not dangerous. A flick or scoop towards an opponent within 5 metres is considered dangerous. If an opponent is clearly running into the shot or into the attacker without attempting to play the ball with their stick, they should be penalised for dangerous play.

The first paragraph of the explanation can be ignored because it depends on two subjective judgements – intentional and/or dangerous – both of which are ‘interpreted’ out of existence or (in the case of intention) cannot be determined with certainty and the raised hit will not therefore generally be penalised. 

The second clause of the second paragraph hangs on the phase “without attempting to play the ball with their stick” This is widely ignored, a defender moving towards the ball will usually be penalised if hit with a raised ball even if obviously trying to play the ball with the stick (Rule ignorance).

We are left with this:- Players are permitted to raise the ball with a flick or scoop provided it is not dangerous. A flick or scoop towards an opponent within 5 metres is considered dangerous. Which oddly (in a Rule prohibiting an intentionally raised hit, unless it is made as a shot at the goal) does not mention a hit, intentional or otherwise, raised into an opponent who is within 5m of the player propelling the ball. So how is this absence of instruction to be interpreted if the ball is raised as a shot at the goal into a close opponent with a hit ?  Make a guess.

Did you guess that the defender would be penalised?

The Rules of Hockey prior to 2004 contained this Rule (and what is now strange numbering).

Rule 13.3.1d  A player shall not raise the ball at another player.

 That rule was of course too severe, there is no mention of endangerment nor of the means of propelling the ball or of height or distance or velocity, and so it was widely ignored. However, instead of adding to it objective criterion, particularly to give some measure of control to the umpiring of the drag-flick (which by 2003 was well established as the preferred first shot at a penalty corner); the fact that defenders were being targeted by shooters propelling the ball high with a flick shot and at about 100kph (now about 120kph) was just ignored (an example of the emphasis on player safety !! ) and in 2004 the Rule was deleted.

I regard this deletion as one of the principle acts of vandalism (there were several others) in what was termed “the simplification and clarification” of the Rules, in the 2004 rewrite of the Rules of Hockey. The old Rule 13.3.1d  didn’t however disappear altogether, it was linked to flicks and scoops and a 5m limit was added to it (so it was possible to add objective criterion) and in this form it was implanted in the explanation of the application of the Rule about the intentionally raised hit. Go figure. The shot at goal (except for the first hit-shot made during a penalty corner) became a free-for-all for the attacking side: “Bugger player safety, defenders shouldn’t get in the way”  a common attitude.

The above forum thread generated the usual mix of complacency and ire and wandered in and out of  a discussion of an incident where a player was hit with the ball in the groin from close range during the making shot at the goal during a penalty corner – and penalised with a penalty stroke ! (This was put down to an umpire making a mistake, he perhaps didn’t understand the Rule – as we all know, unlike players, umpires are human). 

All of these dangerously played ball discussions are either terminated rapidly by a moderator and possibly ‘sin-binned’ or tail off with various contributors fending off criticism of what they did not write while trying to explain again what they did write to people who won’t read what is written anyway or who deliberately ‘misunderstand’ it.

Here is an example of the seeking an answer to the question “Dangerous or not” from an American Umpire Coach who posted on the forum a video of an incident, which to me is clearly dangerous play by the attacking shooter: some of the responses are incredible; for example, “the defender caused the danger by her positioning”.


The original clip is very brief so I have put together an extended version with repeats and slow-mo. The match umpire awarded a goal so she obviously didn’t think the shot to be dangerous or to be intimidation (a completely forgotten Rule); one has to wonder “Why not?”and also “What can be done about such willful blindness?” which is a form of bias.


Senior umpires like to think or pretend to think, that they are guarding their right to make subjective judgements – but ‘on target’ is an objective criteria not a subjective one, it is something that can be measured or calculated with video from several camera angles – as can the height and speed of the ball – so they are kidding themselves and others.

One thing is clear, the oral tradition of imparting knowledge and information (wisdom), is still far stronger than the younger written tradition. The power of ‘insider information’ and the ‘secret’ (gossip and rumour) outweighs all published printed Rules; in fact scorn is heaped on those who adhere to the “black and white” of the published Rules printed in the rule-book. It is said that the meaning of the printed word changes over time and has to be ‘adjusted’ as spoken language develops; that appears to be true, but ten or fifteen years seems an extremely short period of time for some of the changes of meaning that have occurred – for example, opposites in meaning to have developed in what should be a fairly conservative environment – the Rules of a game.

Attempting to resolve the ‘crap-shoot’

The notion, which is contrary to all references to the raised ball given in the Rules of Hockey, that an on-target shot at the goal cannot be considered dangerous, is one such bit of ‘insider information’ that has dogged hockey since it was first heard from the lips of an Australian television sports commentator at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

What the authority for this statement is and from who or from where it originated is a secret – it certainly isn’t from the FIH Rules Committee (the only Rules Authority) or in the published Rules of Hockey or the published UMB.

But this nonsense has been accepted (and broadcast and applied), apparently without demur, by international level umpires, who claim to be making subjective decisions about dangerous play (and perhaps believe they are doing so), and it has taken a pernicious grip on general ‘Rule knowledge’ which is proving impossible to shake. It is repeated or reference made to it by television commentators in nearly every televised hockey match.

There is even a ridiculous counterpart which ‘evolved’ later – that a shot raised high at the goal that is off-target is dangerous. Ridiculous because – not only is that contrary to what is given in Terminology in the rule-book (see definition of ‘Shot at goal’, below) – but unless a player is endangered by the ball, that is put to self-defence to avoid injury from the ball (usually evasive action) or actually injured by it, then no ball propelled from beyond 5m, no matter how propelled or deflected, can be considered to have been dangerously played.(The Rule about the first raised hit-shot made during a penalty corner is not about dangerous play – which seems very odd to me – but about the conditions to be met for a goal to be scored during a penalty corner. I had that information given to me directly by email from a former Rules Secretary. It seems the FIH RC are doing their best not to apply objective criterion to the dangerously played ball, which is bizarre). 

In these two diverse ‘Alice in Wonderland’ ‘on target’ ‘off target’ statements we have the development an apparent general acceptance of opposite meanings of dangerous or endangerment – and both statements are absurd, especially when they are taken together: no one has even attempted to offer a justification for either of them or an explanation for the sudden appearance of the first of them during an Olympic Tournament (the second idea, a raised shot is dangerous if it is off-target, didn’t surface in an international match until 2016). I can’t think of a single sane justification for either statement.  


Videos clips of the original matches where these inventions first appeared. In the first part of the first clip the ball is propelled at a player in a way that is clearly contrary to Rule  – is dangerous play – which the commentator acknowledges.


In the second the ball is not propelled at a player at all. The hit was intended as a shot at the goal but was off-target.

The umpire was possibly confused by an earlier Rule (that was deleted when Rule 7 -playing of the ball above should height -was amended) in which a defender had to be penalised with a penalty corner for even attempting to play at a ball from a high raised shot that was going wide of the goal (a very silly and unfair Rule it was too) or perhaps confused by the deletion of the Own Goal Rule a couple of years back – whatever, he was confused as well as adamant he was right. The confused commentators did their best to find a justification for the decision – that the umpire was wrong, which he clearly was, didn’t occur to them.



Terminology: Shot at goal
The action of an attacker attempting to score by playing the ball towards the goal from within the circle.
The ball may miss the goal but the action is still a “ shot at goal ” if the player’s intention is to score with a shot directed towards the goal.

It is legal play – unless dangerous to another player – to raise the ball with a hit, intentionally or otherwise, when taking a shot at the goal.

Missing the goal with a raised hit shot is not of itself a reason to penalise a shooter for dangerous play.

The answer to the question put in the original post is “Yes, there are different interpretations”. “Why is that?” is another question.  But how – about three yards away and with the ball propelled and at chest height – can be ‘interpreted’ to be beyond 5m and less than knee height by more than 60% of the poll respondents is a mystery, unless the wording of the Rule (or the question asked in the poll) is incomprehensible to them.

Ignorance and stupidity.


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