The best umpire in the world.

Christian Blasch has recently been voted best umpire of 2016.

Edited 17th March 2017.   Outcome of video referral requested by Simon Orchard.

A look at some of his umpiring prior to 2016 from among my collection of video clips.

Dangerous shot at the goal. 2011. EHL Final

Starting with a topic that is a contentious old favourite. A shot raised at head height at goal which is also at a player positioned on the goal-line. This shot although a drag-flick and not a hit – and therefore legally raised to any height unless dangerous – was similar to the miss-hit shot that hit Stephen Blocher on the head during the Olympic Semi-Final in 1988, in that the player was sight-blocked by his own goal-keeper and saw the ball too late to avoid being hit (or didn’t track it at all). Causing legitimate evasion (to avoid injury) is the (inadequate) definition of a dangerously played ball.

There was no ‘gains benefit’ clause to Rule 9.11 in 2011 (it was deleted post 2006 and did not appear in the rule-books issued for 2007-9, 2009-11, 2011-13 and also 2013-15 – I separate them for emphasis) – so what was the offence by the defender? He certainly did not intend to be hit on the head – and how anyway would it be ascertained that he intentionally or voluntarily allowed himself to be hit? The fact that he was hit with the ball was not sufficient grounds for any penalty under the Rule extent at the time, but the shooter could reasonably have been penalised for a dangerously played ball.

This was an extension of the “foot in circle = penalty corner” ‘philosophy’ i.e. any last field-player hit in front of the goal = penalty stroke: don’t bother about a reason for the penalty. This example is quite mild compared with decisions by other umpires e.g high raised shots at opponents from within 5m, which are definitely dangerous play due to the objective criteria “raised and within 5m”.

The following clip shows one of the most absurd awards of a penalty stroke I have seen on video.

I can only suppose that the umpire had been instructed that a shot at the goal could not be considered to be dangerous play.

Back to the EHL Final – Blasch ignored the attempts of the players to play the falling ball which had deflected upwards off the defender’s head, particularly the attacker who jumped up to make a double handed over-head ‘smash’ at it, at a time when any playing of the ball above shoulder height by an attacking player was illegal. Not technically an offence because the ball was ‘dead’, the whistle having been blown, but reckless and dangerous actions, with an opponent down injured, which should have received a rebuke. The decision made is a matter of opinion (but it should not be, ‘dangerously raised’ can easily be determined by simple object criteria – height and velocity and at a player. It is negligent of the FIH not to impose such criteria within the Rules – and leave ‘dangerous’ an entirely subjective decision). In my opinion the shot was dangerous and the decision set a bad example. The simplistic ‘solution’ – “penalise the defender” (because high shots are spectacular and are to be encouraged to make the game more ‘attractive’) is not acceptable.

 

Raised shot at the goal

This shot, below, (match 2014) was judged to be dangerous based on criteria that Blasch himself invented on the spot.

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This following is from the same match but not in the circle controlled by Blasch.

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This shot is certainly dangerous because it causes a defender within 5m of the striker to take evasive action to avoid being hit. The fact that the shot was also off target is irrelevant. No penalty was awarded against the striker, a 15m ball was awarded simply because the ball had been hit out of play over the base-line by an attacker.

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Obstruction.

Although there can be no doubt that the ESP player positions his body between the ENG player and the ball, when the ENG player was within playing distance of it and demonstrating an intent to play at it – playing at the ball thus being prevented because of the positioning of the ESP player, which is a good working definition of obstruction by positioning or shielding – except that in this instance the ENG player was behind the ball and his opponent i.e not goal-side of either while making his initial tackle attempts, and when the whistle was blown. This was a position from where he could not be obstructed by the body of his opponent. The physical contact by the ENG player as he attempted to tackle for the bal (Rule 9.13) was also either ignored or not seen. This was an unusual decision, more often than not a defender who attempts to tackle when the ball is shielded from him or her will be penalised even when there is no body contact at all.

There were several other examples of ball shielding in this match which were not penalised as they should have been. This one was penalised before it actually occurred There is little doubt that the ESP would have obstructed by shielding the ball illegally but he didn’t actually do so before the whistle was blown. Blasch seems to be indicating to the bemused ESP player that he used his stick or positioned the ball in an illegal way.

 

Obstruction

2015 EHL Semi-Final. A different approach.

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First of the men’s matches on the clip below; Blasch allows the Australian player to use his body to turn to position to shield the ball and back-in to ‘bulldoze’ his opponent out of his way.

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More of the same. this sort of thing is usually combined with physical contact after drawing the tackler into close proximity and backing into and ‘rolling off’ him – it’s a tactic used in soccer to elude a close marker while in possession of the ball but illegal in field-hockey.

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Advantage – physical contact, barging

2015 EHL Semi-Final

A deliberate barge to knock an opponent off the ball which should have been penalised with a penalty-stroke and a yellow card – Blasch waves play on – citing advantage.

 

Forcing in breach of conditions given within Rule 9.9.

The first two incidents were in the circle under control of Blasch. The second incident might be described as opportunistic rather than a deliberate foul by the attacking player who did not have the ball under control. All resulted in the award of a penalty corner. The first and the third should have resulted in a free for the defending team and the second to a call of “play on – no offence”. We are now at the stage where it might also require the issue of a card to deter players from the practice of deliberately lifting the ball into the legs of opponents to ‘win’ a penalty, rather than playing hockey.

 

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Forcing, barging.

Raising the ball into the legs of an opponent and then charging into him as he tries to stop/control the ball. As the near-line umpire and closest to these actions, Blasch should have put a stop to this tactic which is in contravention of at least three Rules.

The double touch on the taking of the self-pass and the subsequent award of a penalty corner were farcical, but that incorrect award was ultimately the fault of the video umpire.

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Accidental ball-body contact – no advantage, no intent – no offence. Play should have been allowed to continue, the contact disadvantaged rather than advantaged the defending team.

 

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The Raised Hit.

Illegal reverse edge hit Bel v Aus WL Final 2013

This raised edge hit was not dangerous, but deliberate and it disadvantaged the AUS team, so an offence – which should have been penalised with a penalty corner as it occurred in the 23m area. The Umpiring Committee have no authority to subvert this Rule with the contradiction forget lifted-think danger in the Umpire Managers Briefing for Umpires at FIH Tournaments (UMB) – a subversion which has been cascaded to all levels and has resulted in the ball being frequently intentionally raised into the opponent’s goalmouth from the flanks (which is usually dangerous or leads to dangerous play) without penalty against the attacking side.

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Misquoting Rule. 2013

Blasch correctly penalised this raised hit because it was actually or potentially dangerous. I include this clip because of the sing-song misquoting of Rule with which this commentator frequently misguides viewers. His ‘Rule quote’ during the 2008 Olympic Games, about an on-target shot at the goal (repeated in 2010 at the Women’s World Cup) is a blunder typical of him. The problem is that he is believed (over the rule-book) by viewers, including players and umpires, and somebody must be briefing him, but not correcting him.

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Falling Ball 2012

It is possible that Blasch was sucked into the nonsense that Rule 9.10, about the falling ball and encroachment, does not apply to deflections, (or that top level players have the skill or good sense to avoid endangerment in these situations), but he should have known better.

A goal was initially awarded and then overturned on video referral because the ENG player hit the ball while it was above shoulder height (???). The prior encroachment, on a clear initial ENG receiver, and the attempt to play at the ball at well above shoulder height by the PAK player was overlooked.

Blasch should have awarded a penalty stroke against the PAK player (two deliberate dangerous play offences in the circle) before the ball fell to the level it was contested for. It was inevitable it would be contested for in this situation and that this was likely to be dangerous to one or both players. The average lowly club umpire would have made a more sensible decision for this incident than either Blasch or the video umpire did.

A properly famed Rule concerning the raising of the ball into the circle would have fairly and safely resolved this incident with the immediate award of a free to the attacking team from where the ball was raised.

(The blog article referred to in the video has been deleted, as I do a clear out of posts about every two years and begin again to keep the blog up to date and with a manageable number of articles )

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A mix in one match of intentionally raising the ball into opponents, obstruction offences and a physical contact offence. 2012. The umpiring is at below acceptable Level One standard.

 

2012. The,very skilled, NED player ‘manufactures’ a potentially obstructive situation, but then makes no attempt to play at the ball – he instead charges into the BEL player and hits him on the head with his stick held high and horizontal. Blasch awarded the NED team a free ball for obstruction by the BEL player, instead of giving the NED player a red card for this deliberate dangerous assault.

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Ball intentionally raised with a hit, into the circle, to the disadvantage of opponents – an offence not penalised. An accidental ball-foot contact then penalised with a penalty corner at a time when there was no ‘gains benefit’ clause to Rule 9.11. The Rules being applied in a way the opposite to the way in which they were written.

 

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Preventing a tackle attempt. 2012. The clip opens with at least two obstruction offences before the attacking run was made into the NED circle. Blasch did not recognise any of the blocking and ball shielding as obstructive play.

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2016

I downloaded the matches played in Rio at the 2016 Olymnpic Games, but got so disheartened at the Rule application I saw as I went through them that I made video clips of incidents from less than half of them and I have not downloaded or reviewed any hockey matches since then.

I notice that four of the pool matches the Spanish team played were allocated to Blasch. Was a message being sent to the Spanish following their dissent at a bizarre dangerous play decision he made in a match in 2014 and also previously, in a match during the 2012 Olympics, in which he shoved away of an ESP player who was demanding a video referral that could not be given?

But better results from the Spanish, who seemed to have run out of ideas in the two previous World Level Tournaments, they even surprised the Australians, who might have viewed the match as ‘points in the bag’ prior to the encounter, by beating them by the only goal of the game. Spain lost a pool match only to Belgium and then a Quarter Final to Argentina, the two finalists, and finished in a credible fifth place.

GB v ESP. Obstruction and then forcing, contrary to the required application of Rule 9.9.

Ball shielding 2. The following nine incidents, all from this one match, are similar to this second one. Shielding or ‘protecting’ the ball has now become automatic even when it is a foul, un-penalised physical contact by a ball shielding player (turning or backing into opponents) is common.

Ball shielding 3

Ball shielding 4

Ball shielding 5

Ball shielding 6

Ball shielding 7

Ball shielding 8

Ball shielding 9

Ball shielding 10 and barging. Time running with less than a minute of the match remaining.

BEL v ESP Shield and shunt. The player in possession of the ball moves with it in such a way that his ball-shielding position between his opponent and the ball is maintained – a clear breach of the Obstruction Rule – but not penalised .

AUS v NED

Ball shielding. Correct application of the Obstruction Rule would prevent this illegal, and unattractive style of play.

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Barged obstructed 2. The NED player at the top of the circle receives the ball and then turns over it to barge the contesting AUS player out of his way. Blasch didn’t see any offence.

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Barged obstructed. The NED defender deliberately contests for the ball in a way that was certain to make physical contact with the AUS attacker (Simon Orchard). Blasch saw nothing wrong with this and Orchard was obliged to use a video referral. I do not recall what the result of the referral was, but the obstructive physical contact was deliberate and should have resulted in the award of a penalty-stroke. Having looked at the incident again I now know that the referral ( a request for a penalty corner) was turned down and play restarted with a 15m. This incident alone justifies Orchard’s declared antipathy towards top level umpires he has encountered. The foul by the NED player was a ‘cast-iron’ instance of a foul that matched the criteria for the award of a penalty stroke.

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So is Christian Blasch one of the best umpires in the world and the best of 2016?. Yes, despite his inconsistent and even bizarre umpiring (decision making and behaviour), it is likely that he is, because Simon Orchard is right about the standard of top level umpiring and that these umpires do not understand the game or the meaning and purpose of the Rules to which it is supposed to be played (any more than a ‘bookie’ understands how to ride a horse in a race but can be an expert judge of ‘form’ and horse racing). Those who copy the top umpires are also ‘lost’.

What I find most worrying is that Blasch is a member of the FIH Rules Committee and that he may carry his demonstrated attitudes to the Rules and to dissent into that Committee. We don’t need another autocratic bully who will dominate the Rules Committee in the way that his mentor and umpiring predecessor did – to the detriment of the game.

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