Here is a nice bit of ambiguity highlighted in a ‘discussion’ between the owners of the tags redumpre, Umpirehockey.com and Cardhappy, it’s about the umpire’s signal for a bully.


What is the ambiguity? Whether the hands are together moved upwards and then downwards alternately (with perhaps a touch at the top?) or one hand is moved up while the other is being moved down each hand being alternately moved up and then down- one hand being up when the other is down – but no contact. –

What does ‘alternately’ mean in the description given in the rule-book?

(I guess we can no longer accurately say “rule-book” now that we have a replacement apt – a development which makes me uneasy considering the way Rules have previously disappeared or been invented, with either the exact form of previous existence or the fact of invention being later denied. It’s more difficult to deny a printed document than an internet web page, a copy of which has not been printed out. I have always been uneasy about the fact that previous rule-books are not archived and readily accessible for comparison, we have only an incomplete ‘potted history’ of the Rules)

I have always used the latter method, but Cris Maloney (umpire hockey.com) is right, that signal is not similar to the required bully action that is being signalled – it’s nothing like it – but this signal method is the traditional practice and it is understood – hence the ‘blindness’ and the sarky criticism. I am ashamed to say that is why I used it, ashamed because I have been very critical of others for applying Rules in a particular way just because their peers do so – same as them, I just didn’t give it any thought – and thought is necessary each and ever time a decision is made.

Explaining things is not always easy – although not difficult in this case – but redumpire (David Elcock) seems to believe that by repeating the word ‘alternately’ and using bold text when doing so, he explains it and its use (the Englishman abroad speaking to a resident native, slowly and loudly in English) – common words and simple constructions of them have to be used i.e. language that is completely and identically understood by both parties.

This quote is attributed to Albert Einstein.

If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough. although of course he did not say that, it has been ‘edited’ to make a more ‘catchy’ statement from what he did say. The original statement is likely to have been as from this report of a conversation with another scientist, recalled after Einstein’s death.

“All physical theories, their mathematical expressions apart, ought to lend themselves to so simple a description that even a child could understand them” Not nearly as ‘snappy’ (or simple) a statement.

This is also attributed to Einstein and I think is more likely to be accurately reported even if it isn’t grammatically correct  – it’s truncated (by Einstein, who’s mother language was not English) perhaps to avoid repetition of the word  “possible”( although “necessary” would have been a better word choice) .

Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler (than is necessary to enable complete understanding).

Richard Feynman came closer to the popular ‘quote’,  but he was probably paraphrasing Einstein. Feynman was asked by the Dean of Cornell University (where Feynman was a physics professor) to explain to the faculty why spin half-particles obey Femi-Dirac statistics (I don’t even understand the terms of the question although I have a vague idea what statistics are and have read a biography of Dirac). Feynman, no doubt correctly, thought that the explanation to the faculty would have to be pitched at undergraduate (or freshman) level and went off to prepare his lecture. A couple of days later he contacted the Dean and reportedly (recalled after his death) said ” I couldn’t reduce the subject to freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.”

Einstein by “a child” possibly meant a very smart twelve year old, rather than the six year old mentioned in related quotes from others. Six year old children are unlikely to have the vocabulary necessary to follow even fairly simple explanations of complex situations and – if the theories of the educational psychiatrist Piaget are accepted – are not sufficiently mentally developed to form the necessary abstract concepts from all that is said to them: concepts that even a quite dull adult (a barmaid or a grandmother are the usual adults picked on in other quotes) would probably be able to construct from simple language. The average eight year old would, quite rightly, take great exception at this, but the definition of a moron is a adult person (over twenty-one) with the mental capacity of a child aged between eight and twelve. (It is a very old and probably very inaccurate, definition).

Where am I going with this? I have been reflecting on what was said to me by a hockey coach as we stood watching the game between Surbiton HC and Wimbledon HC last Sunday – and thinking about explanation and understanding. I repeatedly asked him why certain incidents played out in front of us were not penalised as obstruction. His ‘explanation’ was that this was the way the Rule is interpreted. When I asked him to explain the interpretation, he could not. He admitted that it was contrary to what was given in the Rule and not how the Rule used to be applied – although he agreed that there is no reasonable explanation for any change to the interpretation of obstruction in the last twenty-five years – “but that (what we were seeing) is just how it is.

(in fact the ‘new interpretation’ of the Obstruction Rule written into the back of the rule-book under Rule Interpretations, post 1992 was almost entirely deleted in 2004. All that remains of it in the current Explanation of Rule 9.12 is the incomplete stand alone statement that a stationary receiver of the ball may be facing in any direction (why not?). Everything else in the interpretation was already in the Rule (or other Rules) prior to 1992 or could be deduced or inferred from them – there was no change to the Obstruction Rule beyond the introduction of a very specific leeway given to a receiver of the ball while receiving and controlling it (in other words the “new interpretation” introduced in 1992, was an exception to the Rule, not a change to the interpretation of what was (and is) obstructive play by, for example, a player in possession of the ball – that did not change in 1992 (was not changed at that time by the FIH Hockey Rules Board) and has not been changed since, either by the Rules Board or by the (renamed) FIH Rules Committee. We seem now however to be floundering along on what officials can remember of the deleted interpretation, because they will not let go of it, despite the fact that it is deleted and was anyway very poorly written by someone who obviously did not understand the game. This deleted interpretation, having demanded conditions for a tackle attempt that were impossible to comply with, then concluded, in contradiction :- ” However, umpires should note certain forms of obstruction which are often incorrectly overlooked. In particular, preventing a legitimate tackle (my bold) by intentionally (introducing for the first time intention to obstruct, which is not in the Rule) shielding the ball with the body or leg is obstruction.
Stick obstruction and interference is prohibited; no player may strike at or interfere with an opponent’s stick. The player with the ball may not use the stick to shield or protect the ball from a legitimate tackle.
The mix of fact (written here in blue text) and fiction which was presented in this interpretation was very confusing.

preventing a legitimate tackle  by shielding the ball with the stick, body or leg is obstruction.

In view of that statement, a child seeing current hockey as it is played and officiated, could point and ask “Why is thathow it is“?” and expect that those officiating, coaching or playing the game to be able to explain (and properly justify) what is now going on – but they cannot or will not do so – we get a stonewalling “That is the interpretation.” rather than an explanation.

I was not asking for an explanation of the behaviour of protons or electrons, for which the scientific ‘explanation’ seems to be “that is just how it is” (that is physical behaviour associated with particle theory combined with conflicting behaviour associated with wave theory, which seems to be illogical, and is thus far unexplained), but I was asking for a justification for players using obstructive tactics (attempting to shield the ball past opponents) and umpires  responding to these obstruction offences in a way that is directly opposite to the way a reasonable reading of the wording of the Rule , using common understanding of the simple language used in the Rule, would lead any rational person to expect the game to be played and the Obstruction Rule applied.

Maybe the language isn’t as simple as it needs to be, or more words are needed: after all “alternatively” isn’t a complex concept, but clearly additional words (about the hands) would give clarity to the over-simplified instructions concerning the bully signal – I don’t think that ‘obstruction’ or ‘prevention’ are any more complicated as concepts than ‘alternately’. That said simplification is not an easy undertaking – it is surprising how much is assumed to be well known by the person an action is being explained to.

Redumpire and Cardhappy could (and should) have recognised that without clear indication of how the hands were being referred to, there is ambiguity in the use of the word “alternately”, but that would have deprived them of the opportunity of a ‘put down’.  The subject isn’t important enough to justify the unthinking, unreasonable and rude responses and the bad feeling generated by them. The question from Cris Maloney might be considered trivial but it was not unreasonable to ask it and also to expect a polite and considered reply. According to the novelist and satirist Swift, the inhabitants of Lilliput and Blefuscu went to war over the importance of which end of a boiled egg to open – the responses given to question s about obstruction are as inexplicable. The same kind of responses are made (or refused) to questions about the dangerous shot at the goal, the penalising of ball-body contact, and the interpretation of “attempting”.

All Fools Day was the following day but they got an early start.

I like Cris Maloney’s response, a few days later, which mentions the ‘broken windmill’ signal now given to indicate a 23m free ball to the attacking team when the ball goes out of play over the base-line off a defender’s stick. Why can’t the powers that be get it into their heads that they themselves have deleted what used to be called a long corner and more recently (a massively important name change when it was made !!?? ) a corner, and replaced it with a restart on the 23m line. There is no good reason why the signal should not be the umpire’s right hand pointed with extended arm directly towards/over the base-line (some umpires are already using this signal) There is no need to point to the corner of the pitch, in fact to do so is ridiculous – to be required to do so, absurd.

There is now no such thing as a ‘corner’, but, going back to the match I was watching, ball shielding, with stick or body, to delay or prevent an opponent, who is intent on playing at the ball, directly doing so, when they would otherwise be immediately able to do so, is (still) usually an offence called obstruction – in only two situations should an exception to this Rule be made.

Ask any umpire what these two situations are  – and he or she is likely to be dumbfounded by the question, but they still won’t penalise what is obstruction when they see it. Many of them are unable to recognise obstructive situations – having been told and having accepted that they do not exist or, as one FHF moderator (Diligent) would have it,  “It (obstruction) occurs once, if at all, in about three hundred matches“. I’d say that those figures would be about right if the topic was intentional use of the body to stop or deflect the ball, but in most matches accidental or forced ball-foot/leg contact is the reason most of the  free balls are awarded and the reason for the majority of penalty-corners ‘won’.



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