“It is generally accepted…”



Perhaps I am no longer an isolated voice pointing out something that everybody else denies has happened or is happening, but I have been writing about the conflict between what I think is ‘generally accepted’ to be publicity pap “the emphasis on safety” “consideration for the safety of others” “playing responsibly”, and the realities of competitive hockey, for many years and have received much more abuse than praise for my pains.

If there was genuine concern about dangerous play and  player safety the Rules would be different: giving just two examples- 1) the Rule prohibiting the raising of the ball at another player would not have been (2004) deleted/transferred, ‘watered down’ to become a confused  Explanation of Rule 9.9 and a 5m limit added to it, and then be ignored (2008 Olympics) if such a raised ball was a shot at the goal.  2) Forcing, particularly the forcing of self-defence, which is never mentioned except as a lack of skill on the part of a player hit with the ball, would not have been deleted (2011) as an offence in itself.

I have to disagree with Krebsy’s presumption that much of the present conflict has the support of or was instigated by “the FIH”. What is “the FIH”? As far as the Rules of Hockey are concerned the term means both ‘a who’ and ‘a how’: it should mean the FIH Executive Committee.  There is a process for drafting and adopting a Rule proposal into Full Rule and if that process is not adhered to by the proper parties then that proposal, idea, opinion, call it what you will, is not and cannot be a Rule of Hockey. This fact does not appear to be generally understood. It does not matter a straw how FIH Umpires are applying what they think are Rules – if the application or interpretation they are applying is not printed in the rule-book or as is sometimes the case, even conflicts with what is in the Rules of Hockey – it is not a Rule.

The procedure demands that the FIH Rules Committee – no one else, no other body, no other person or group of people  – draft a proposed Rule and then submit it to the FIH Executive for approval. If the proposal is approved by the Executive (who may instead send it back to the Rules Committee for further work) it may then be included in the Rules of Hockey. This process often takes some years, as trials or Mandatory Experiments may be necessary before a decision to include a change to Full Rule can be reached. The FIH Rules Committee cannot draft and then approve a Rule on their own. The FIH Executive cannot both propose and then approve a Rule or a Rule amendment on their own; there is a separation of powers and both committees perform their tasks independently (I find it odd that any individual could be a member of both committees but this has happened). This system is slow but it works tolerably well.

But the official procedure is badly undermined by another part of “the FIH” the committee who has charge of the appointment and training of umpires The FIH Umpiring Committee, who are said to ‘liaise’ with the FIH Rules Committee on Rule proposals and on the application of Rules which have been approved by the Executive and are part of the Rules of Hockey.

Gingerbread mentions in his post above the opinion of a L2 (umpire) coach and of an FIH Umpire. He does not appear to understand that a dangerously played ball decision is usually entirely subjective – in other words the opinion solely of an umpire officiating the match – an un-involved L2 umpire coach or an FIH Umpire cannot, unless there is also a clear breach of an objective Rule criteria, offer a contrary opinion about a personal judgement made by any other umpire at any level i.e. say such a decision is wrong – at best they might say that they would not in the circumstances have made the same decision. (That such decisions are generally entirely subjective is I feel unsatisfactory, because they are often both technically wrong and unfair, but cannot be challenged. Umpires tend to see subjective decision making as a strength of the current system and vigorously defend their ability to make such decisions , I see it as a weakness.) It is telling that Gingerbread goes not to the Rules of Hockey but to the irrelevant opinions of more senior umpires (to what others are doing), which in the circumstances he describes have nothing at all to do with the Rules of Hockey .

I have had experience at a low level of the ‘generally accepted’ way of applying Rule, which has no Rule support, being demanded of me. During October 2009, in the period after the deletion of ‘gains benefit’ from Rule 9.11. I umpired a very one-sided match between a strong veterans team and a club 4XI which was a mixture of colts, vets and a few experienced players of 4th team standard in a club which ran six teams. The veterans won 12-0. That evening, without saying anything at all to me, the captain of the losing team complained to the County Umpiring Association that I had not penalised ball-body contact at all, allowing play to continue whenever it occurred i.e. I had not applied Rule 9.11 correctly.

The veterans team were not happy with my performance either, because it was very unusual and allowed them little in the way of the ‘breathers’ the award of  a free-ball provides, but because their team contained some experience umpires, they at least understood what I was doing – they also quickly understood that shoving the ball onto an opponent’s foot was not going to ‘win’ them a free ball and they were therefore obliged to beat opponents with speed and/or stick-skills or play a passing game: in the passing game they were far superior to their opponents.

The result of the complaint was a visit from an official from the Middlesex County Umpiring Association the following weekend. He informed me of the complaint and asked me what was going on and I informed him that I had applied Rule 9.11 exactly as it was (sic) currently written in the Rules of Hockey – the criterion for a ball-body contact offence at the time was intent or voluntarily made contact and there was no other.  (I have to say that at the time I though that the complete deletion of gains benefit was an error by the then FIH Hockey Rules Board and that in some instances it should have remained applicable (I have written in another article – http://wp.me/pKOEk-2cx – suggestions for a gains benefit clause for Rule 9.11), but the application of it in 2006, prior to the deletion, was a ‘generally accepted’ umpiring practice in which any ball-body contact was seen as the gaining of a benefit, which made a nonsense of having that criteria (as an exception to not an offence) at all – and the removal of that dumb ‘interpretation’, even if it meant removing the criteria, was a good thing because the ‘interpretation’ itself removed the criteria).  I was in 2009 however not in a position to impose ‘gains benefit’ at all (even if there was benefit gained by a ball-body contact- which was seldom) as the criteria was no longer in the Rule.

Having listened to what I had to say the County Official then said “Martin I don’t want you applying the Rules according to what is in the rule-book, I want you to umpire as other umpires are umpiring” (thereby exceeding his authority). I replied that  I could only do as other umpires were doing if what they were doing was in accord with what was given in the Rules of Hockey. I was never again appointed to umpire a match in Middlesex. I should add that having coached an international team and previously regularly umpired at First XI level, I was not utterly distraught at my ejection as an umpire at 4th team level (who would be?) but I was annoyed because of the reason for it.

That experience has some similarities to the dilemma top umpires are put in when told by FIH Tournament Directors or FIH Umpire Managers to take a certain line to particular instances (with what are supposed to be their own subjective judgements) like a ball raised into a player in front of the goal or a ball-foot contact by a defender in the defended circle. Do they apply the Rules of Hockey and risk not receiving any further appointments – even risk being downgraded – or do they comply with the required, completely unauthorised, inventions and achieve their aim of becoming “hugely experienced and highly respected FIH Umpires” ?

The ‘gains benefit’ saga is a prime example of a change being imposed in a way that was without any authority whatsoever. The history of this episode is one of the reasons I ‘dug my heels in’ when (in effect) told to comply with it.

Due to the ‘generally accepted’ way of applying ‘gains benefit’  prior to 2007, mentioned above, the FIH Rules Committee deleted that criteria for a ball-body contact offence in the Rules of Hockey issued in January 2007. In February 2007 Peter von Reth authored an ‘Official Interpretation’ on the FIH website in which he explained (without offering a rational explanation) that he and the Chairman of the FIH Rules Committee had agreed to the reinstatement of the ‘gains benefit’ clause and it would continue to be applied as it had been applied in 2006.

Here is the irrational explanation for the reversion that was offered:-

The 2005/6 Rules indicated that it was not an offence if the ball hits the foot, hand or body of a field player unless that player or their team benefits from this. However, as with other rules, this continues to be an offence if benefit is gained. Rule 9.11 should therefore continue to be applied taking into account any benefit gained by the player or their team.


Why is that statement irrational? Because “unless that player or their team benefits from this” means exactly the same as “if benefit is gained“, so the entire explanation offered is contained in the words “However” and “Therefore” and justified by “general discussion” and the unspecified feedback apparently received from various parties and a few National Associations, after the change to the Explanation of Rule 9.11. was made public.

The previous long-term disquiet about the way the Rule was being applied under the 2005/6 Rules of Hockey and those of previous years  – the reason for the change made by the FIH Rules Committee, active from Januray 2007, after the usual consultations with all parties when a change is to be proposed to the FIH Executive, had taken place, was just brushed aside.

This ‘no change’ action cannot have been the result of a legitimate procedure, not having been initiated by the FIH Rules Committee or approved by the FIH Executive and it is entirely possible that Peter von Reth, having been out-voted in the Rules Committee, simply hijacked the FIH website to impose his will.  On reading that ‘Official Interpretation’ my reaction, knowing that he had exceeded his authority, was “Over my dead body”.

Why didn’t the FIH Executive reprimand Peter von Reth and issue a counter-statement affirming their previous decision? I suppose for the sake of the appearance of unity (like a match umpire seeing a colleague make a horrible blunder but not intervening to correct it)  and the avoidance of loss of face for one of the most senior of the FIH officials, he was a member of the FIH Rules Committee and Chair of the Umpiring Committee at the time.

There was no unity: gains benefit did not reappear in a rule-book until 2016 – in the form “gains an advantage”, but for more than eight years umpires applied it as if it was part of a Rule in the Rules of Hockey.  The FIH Rules Committee and the FIH Umpiring Committee via Umpire Managers were using different versions of the Rules of Hockey and the latter were not applying the published version. Where did ‘the FIH’ stand on this? Who knows? There was a resounding silence but it is clear that in 2007 and later the FIH Hockey Rules Board (and post 2011 the renamed FIH Rules Committee) did not support the reinstatement of the ‘gains benefit’ clause. 

How many other ‘interpretations’ (inventions/distortions/subversions) are applied in a way similar to the way ‘gains benefit’ was generally applied between February 2007 and May 2015?   Quite a few (and without the dubious ‘benefit’ of being in any way declared an Official Interpretation).

Regrettably the fact that an FIH Umpire is seen to penalise or fail to penalise a particular action is not an indication that it is or is not in breach of a Rule of Hockey. “All FIH Umpires umpire this in this way“, an oft used justification for a particular decision (a Keely Dunn favourite), is not at all an assurance that “this way” is in compliance with the Rules of Hockey.

The statement “An ‘on target’ shot at goal cannot be dangerous play”, was first heard in public – from a television commentator – during Tournament play at the 2008 Olympics, where an emboldened Peter von Reth was the Tournament Director. There has been, as Krebsy has pointed out, no correction  to this statement (which was repeated by an umpire to a player during a match in the 2010 World Cup) issued by ‘the FIH’, so here we go again.

There has to be change to the current system. There are a far greater number of umpire managers than there are members of the FIH Rules Committee; perhaps it would be better if senior umpire managers were formed into a rules committee that acted in place of and in the same way as the present FIH Rules Committee? But then do we want the Rules of Hockey to be determined by umpires, who, as is generally accepted, know nothing at all about playing hockey? The present FIH Rules Committee has about the same number of umpires as it has former players. The latter, it is generally accepted, especially if they played at international level, previously knew nothing at all about the Rules of Hockey. These generalisations about the Rule and hockey knowledge of players and umpires respectively, although there is a grain of truth to them, are of course a nonsense, but so is much, even most, of what is now generally considered to be acceptable umpiring.

On the subject of nonsense we need not look much further than than these conflicting posts by nerd_is_the_word (NITW), a contributor to FHF.


The defender causes danger by positioning etc. was an argument for penalising the defender, if hit with the ball, initially advanced by Keely Dunn back in August 2006, when she first joined FHF. I ‘crossed swords’ with her over it on the forum at the time. Whether it was her own idea or a proposal given to her by her ‘FIH insider’ I don’t  know. NITW has obviously given this nonsense no further though, he just repeats it. He is clearly not in complete agreement with all that Kerbsy wrote, but with just the second sentence.

Has he cast me as a conspiracy theorist? Surely not, I have written history, but that there was a conspiracy, by a few FIH officials, to subvert a Rule of Hockey in February 2007, cannot be denied: but ‘the conspirators’ announced who some of them were and the nature and purpose of the subversion and their conspiracy, at the time: conspiracies are supposed to be secret.

But then a few hours after his previous post NITW writes this:-



“lf l was defending, and had been hit in the chest, and the umpire told me that they didn’t see the lift but did see it hit me, I would be livid that the umpire had clearly seen a dangerous ball (he has seen it hit me in the chest) but will then be penalising me for being hit in the chest.”

Why should he be livid with the umpire for following a practice he himself has advocated – penalising a defender hit with the ball if he chooses to position to defend the goal?  – Well yes of course he should be livid in those circumstances; a dangerously played ball cannot reasonably result in penalty against a defender hit with it.  Completely agree with that NITW. The lad is clearly very confused and needs help. He even appears to believe, looking at a later post, that the FIH have issued a directive which they have not put in writing. Sorry mate – not in writing (and addressed to all National Associations), not a Directive from the FIH Executive.


2 Comments to ““It is generally accepted…””

  1. Longtime reader of your blog. I first became interested in field hockey rules when I watched my High school’s team play with my Mom, who immediately observed that the obstruction rule was being called differently from when she played. The only hockey that I have seen which is a bit less obstructive is local high school level, especially when played on grass … probably because the players are too busy trying to settle the bouncing ball to try to shield it.

    I’m a bit disappointed that there aren’t more matches from the pre-creative umpiring era available to watch online. I certainly would like to be able to watch more games from when hockey was played properly.

    I’ve noticed other sports where officials ignore obvious offenses or rule breaches, although not to the same extent: crooked scrum feeds in rugby union, and traveling and carrying in basketball.

    Keep up the good fight!

    • Thank you for the kind comments. Your post highlights a problem, which is that conforming with the published Rules is seen as ‘old fashioned’, ‘out of date’, ‘traditionalist. There exists an arrogance that anything that is currently ‘interpreted’ or modern is superior to the long established Rules of the game. But a game is its Rules. When the application or interpretation of the Rules of a game are changed, other than by due process and its elected authority, that game becomes a different game and ought to be called by a different name. Wonky (or something ruder) would fit the game that is currently played as hockey.

      There is no reason, other than the official change (1993) that allowed a receiver to receiver and control the ball in a shielding position before moving away from opponents with it (which is an exception to the Rule but was presented as a new interpretation), why the application of the Obstruction Rule familiar to your mother in her playing days should not be what is practised by players and umpires playing now – and be still familiar to her.

      As for other sports; Obstruction in soccer i.e. holding opponents back with spread arms when the ball is running out of play is ignored as is most use of hands and arms on opponents and no-one watching a basketball game would believe that it is, according to its Rules, a non-contact sport.

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