Field Hockey Rules: Obsessed

Rules of Hockey.

Edited 27th February 2017.

I was recently ( October 2016) asked why I have “this obsession” with the Obstruction Rule, a question which struck me as odd because I recall having an opposite attitude to ‘umpiring practice’ in regard to obstruction when I first started to write about this Rule around 1998.

In a previous article, now deleted, I described going, in 1968, to a Hockey Festival in Germany and coming across the most extreme interpretation of the 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 normal, they were used to this interpretation and behaved as if it were correct.  (This sort of thing explains in part why many players never bother to learn the FIH published Rules – they are an irrelevance in such circumstances and knowing what they 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 long forward step 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 forward 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 over- strictly, but it was generally not that daft. 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’.

The video clip below, which was produced in 2003, 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 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, 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 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’ tackle.

Compare the above ‘obstruction’ with the below 2016 penalising of a tackle attempt, 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 in 2009  – and there has been no announcement of any change of interpretation at all made by the FIH and no change made to the wording of the interpretation of the Rule since 2001 (and that was ‘housekeeping’ which did not in any way alter the existing interpretation, so there has been no change of any significance since 1994).

My persistence in pointing out the 2009 amendment to the Explanation of application of the Obstruction Rule, on the websites talkinghockey.com and fieldhockeyforum.com was rewarded with bans from both. George Brinks told me the Obstruction Rule was ‘dead’ and my insisting on writing about it was driving people away from his forum. Here, below, is my notification of my permanent exclusion from fieldhockeyforum.com – a typical umpire ‘interpretation’ by Magpie (a previous moderator), a convenient invention without any justification whatsoever.

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Neither of these people were interested in what I was actually advocating, they incorrectly assumed I wanted a return to the pre-1993 era. 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.

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The art of evasion with the ball by turning is about timing, spatial awareness, footwork, ball-control (stickwork) 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, the present (2017) Obstruction Rule is actually more proscriptive of obstructive action by a player in possession of the ball than the Rule was in 2004 – but ‘practice’ is very different.

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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 – fieldhockeyforum have also effectively banned any discussion of the shot at goal as a dangerously raised ball – the ‘final word’, a weak and inaccurate article by Diligent (Chris Horton), one of the forum moderators, having been pinned to the top of the Umpiring Section. 

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’, 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 the 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 regard the Explanation as ‘notes’ and not as direction, 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.

Here is a sample of umpire coaching (also by Chris Horton) 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. 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’ was always ‘the Rule’, not what was printed in the rule-book .

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 such an extreme 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 mantra which has become ‘practice’.

The Rule on the falling ball has been messed up by firstly, change to the wording of and then ignoring, the second clause of the Dangerous Play Rule  …or leading to dangerous play. and secondly, by poor wording of Rule 9.10. (for example, the deletion of “at the time the ball was raised” from the Guidance) The results are different views on the placement of the free ball awarded for danger and 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 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.  

                      

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