Diligent’s tar baby


I have described as a ‘tar baby’ the ‘sticky’ entitled The Dangerous Shot On Goal that has been attached to the head of the Umpiring section of the fieldhockeyforum website.
I wrote a critique of it some years ago but as Diligent has decided to expand on it and I have made reply to that expansion (below) I think it appropriate to restate my opinion of the so called consensus and place it above my reply to the recent expansion.

I have separated the sentences of Diligent’s consensus post so that I can make observations on them in written order rather than trying deal with them all together in a longer comment at the end.

Every internet forum has had these debates, and the strong opinions have led to a deal of nastiness.

I agree, I have been on the receiving end of a great deal of this nastiness. Two hockey forums have vanished because of this nastiness. First the forum on hockeyweb.com and then the one run by George Brinks on what was previously known talkinghockey.com but is now fieldhockey.com

There are two extreme positions:
– if it is a shot, it cannot be dangerous (any danger is the defender’s fault for being there);

That statement contains two extreme positions but both are on the same ‘pole’. They are both bizarre, the first conflicts with the Rules of Hockey and the second with common sense and with Common Law

(No one can be said to accept a risk of dangerous play – the risk of the ball being recklessly or deliberately propelled at them in a way that could cause injury – when such dangerous play is contrary to the Rules of the game. It is not possible to impose or suppose the acceptance of such risk because of legitimate positioning on the field of play because it is not possible to impose or suppose acceptance of a risk that results from a reckless or deliberate breach of a Rule. The only risks that can be said to be accepted are the risks associated with unintended or accidental actions).

– the danger rules are being ignored, with too many dangerous shots allowed as goals, or injured defenders penalised with a PS.

That statement is not an extreme position it is an accurate description of what is happening and it can be backed up with video clips from a great many high level matches. It would be an extreme position to suggest that all raised shots are dangerous or that any ball played towards an opponent is dangerous – nobody has suggested taking either position: height limits and extended distances within which to apply them have been suggested: these are not extreme suggestions but sensible measures in line with the FIH declared emphasis on player safety.

On the occasions when the flame wars have subsided enough to let reasonable contributors reach a consensus, that consensus has been:

– it all depends on the shot, the speed and distances involved, the skill-level of defenders and attacker, the state of play, the importance of the competition, and many other factors known only to those who were there.

I am reminded of climate scientists who are angry at the so called ‘consensus’ concerning the effects of carbon dioxide produced by human activity on global warming or climate change, but because of the way poll questions were framed are included in a claimed 98% consensus of scientists who say that global warming is caused predominantly by human produced CO2. That statement not following the conclusion that should have been reached from the questions that were asked in the poll. I can understand their anger and their amazement at the blatant manipulation of their answers.

I wonder how Diligent arrived at his consensus – I can recall the questions being asked but I have no recollection of any answer that was generally accepted – few answers were actually given or even by most of the few who did respond, any attempt made to give answers. Some individuals actually went to the trouble of stating in a post that they would not get involved in any discussion about a dangerously played ball and had posted just to state that. The usual response from those who should have been able to provide useful insights was stonewalling or a yawn or comments about dead horses and of course a great deal of nastiness – there was also a great deal of ignorance and stupidity put on display.

I can recall being told there was a consensus but I, and many others, formed no part of it – there was an opinion we were informed ‘everybody’ held. Of course I and others of my ilk could not possibly be described as ‘reasonable contributors’ or as part of ‘everybody’ because we insisted on reasons or justification for ‘not possibly dangerous’ opinions being given by those who held what we considered to be the bizarre views Diligent mentions above as being extreme – asking for reasons is apparently not a reasonable contribution to a discussion: neither is offering contrary opinion backed up with reason and/or video evidence.

I can agree with only this first statement, it all depends on the shot, the speed and distances involved and then only partially, because it is insufficient. I will add, it also depends on the height to which the ball is raised and if the ball is propelled towards a player – these four objective criterion are crucial  and should form the basis of an adequate dangerously played ball Rule

The state of play (the score or the time remaining?) and the importance of the competition are irrelevant. Why should these incidentals have any bearing at all on a dangerously played ball decision? And many other factors known only to those who were there (such as?) That is meaningless. There are of course possible additional factors such as sight-blocking and third-party obstruction but they don’t alter the fact that the ball has been propelled in a dangerous way, they just make defenders even more vulnerable to such a shot.

– at the highest levels of hockey, very little is judged as dangerous, on the assumption that defenders have the skill to take on almost any shot.

A daft assumption. Whether or not a ball is dangerously played – puts an opponent at risk of injury – has nothing whatsoever to do with the skill-level of the defender/s. A player who is forced to self defence from a ball raised to, say, head height- be it by attempting to evade the ball or attempting to play at it with the stick, is endangered in the same way and to the same degree no matter whatever her or his level of skill may be. Humans are physiologically the same no matter what skills they may possess; bones fracture or break, flesh bruises or cuts or is abraded, in the same way and for the same reasons, no matter what the level of play may be.


Playing the ball at an opponent in a way that may injure that opponent if self-defence is not successful is dangerous play, but it is also dangerous play even if the self-defence is successful (A dangerously played ball is defined as one that causes legitimate evasive action – which leaves out half of the possible action that could be taken in self-defence – but does not depend on the attempted evasion being successful – or should not do so).

It must be  pointing out that an attempt to play at the ball is forced on a defender when it is known that an umpire will not respond properly to legitimate evasive action taken by a defending player  – to avoid a high shot – by penalising the shooter, but will award a goal – which is common practice. In such circumstances umpires are largely responsible for the risk that has to be taken, because  they compel an attempt to play the ball; they therefore also contribute to the cause of any resulting injury.  

I am inclined to agree that the skill level of the attacker is of relevance – but only to the penalty imposed – I expect a top level player to be able to consistently hit, from the top of the circle, the shaft of a hockey stick, that is positioned vertically on the goal-line; so I also expect such players, even under high pressure, to be able to avoid propelling the ball at positions occupied by defending players – even in a goal that is ‘only’ 3.66m wide (which they are obliged to do , following the Rule “All players must play with consideration for the safety of others” – yes it is a Rule – but one that has been nullified by ‘interpretation’).But perversely it is only the defender who is deemed to be obliged to have skill.

Where defenders are ‘targeted’ or the ball is propelled at them recklessly the umpire should be awarding a card to the attacker as well as a free ball to the defending team – but, although I have seen hundreds of recklessly dangerous shots made (many of them deliberately targeting an opponent), I have never seen a card given to a player for this action.

but umpires “might still follow the guidance to the Rules 9.9 and 13.3.l. That a shot striking someone above the knee from within 5m can be considered dangerous.

That should say “must follow Explanation of Rule application provided with the Rules“. I don’t accept that an umpire has a choice in this matter (and what was previously called Guidance for Players and Umpires has, since 2004, been called Explanation – although much of it falls well short of adequate or even clear explanation.)

The Rule Explanation states “ is considered dangerous” not “can be” – there is no choice given. Such misreading or misquoting leads to misapplication of the Rule by those who take advice from Internet forums without checking for themselves what is given in the rule-book.

Rule 13.3.l provides a great deal more than a reference to an out-runner during a penalty corner being hit above the knee with a first shot at the goal. That ‘more’ is set out in my reply to the expansion post below.

– at beginning and social levels of hockey, inexperienced players must not be left feeling unsafe, and wild shots should be penalised to encourage attackers to care for safety.

Agreed, the same is true at all levels of the game. The wording in the Preface to the Rules of Hockey makes it clear that all the Rules apply to all players and all officials. i.e. to all hockey that is played under FIH Rules.

– so umpires can reasonably extend the ‘within 5′ to 7, 10, or even 14, and sometimes rule it ‘dangerous’ even if the ball misses everyone.

No they cannot, no official can alter a Rule or an interpretation of a Rule see – Circular from the FIH Executive to all Hockey Associations in  2001. (Umpires might agree with team captains and coaches before a match to to apply enhanced safety standards during a particular match – hitting of the ball in a match between men and women for example – but they may not vary individual decisions – Rule interpretation – based on subjective judgements).

– at the majority of hockey in-between, it is back to the umpire’s judgement, based on experience, what they’ve read on the Internet, and discussions in the bar.

Was that a Freudian slip? What about the Rules of Hockey?

– so after a game with such a decision, you’ll have this debate with a fellow umpire and a couple of other players.

What such decision? Extending 5m to 14m or calling dangerous a shot that did not endanger anyone? The decision in need of discussion is much more likely to be a failure to penalise for dangerous play and the awarding of a goal.

My observations of attempts by players to engage umpires in discussion about a decision made in a match that finished a hour or so beforehand are a) the umpire will have no recollection of the incident (and his colleague will be unable to offer help) or  b) He will insist he is right even when it can be demonstrated by reference to a Rule that he is wrong. It is at this stage that statements like”That is the way I have been told to umpire it” or “Everybody umpires that in this way” are trotted out  – sub-text – throw your rule-book away  or c) There will be outright refusal to discuss any decision made during the match on the grounds that it can now make no difference, so such discussion is not useful. In fact umpire responses to questions after a match are very similar to their responses to forum questions on the same topics. The mixture of boredom and arrogance is not an attractive one.


Diligent’s post entitled The Dangerous Shot on Goal doesn’t provide any answer to the most asked questions in hockey. What is a dangerously played ball? and “When (in what circumstances) should a goal shot be considered to be dangerous? ” Over 12,000 views of The Dangerous Shot On Goal post should tell us something about the level of interest in obtaining answer to such questions. It did, on the other hand, present the umpire as an omnipotent all-knowing deity, totally in charge, so umpires, unless they are honest, love it. (To be fairer many of them probably didn’t read it carefully and didn’t give it much further though because the errors have become accepted mantra).



Diligent.  In short: the ‘legitimate’ in the rule follows the umpire’s judgement, not drives it. In case anyone protests: this is a perfectly normal interaction between the rule, the judgement, and the decision: the ball rolls to the outside edge of the line (sideline, back line, goal line) before a player pulls it back; if the umpire judges it stayed in play then play continues; if the umpire judges it over the line then no, it’s over the line, and we have the appropriate restart. Happens all the time. Evasive action is no different.

He is right ‘legitimate’ does often follow an umpire’s judgement  – but I am going to protest: that is so so wrong – not least because legitimate evasive action will seldom (perhaps I should say “never”) occur after a ‘dangerous’ decision has been made. The only scenario that I can think of where (actual rather than potential) danger would usually be penalised before evasive action is taken is an over-height first hit-shot made during a penalty corner – when evasive action becomes irrelevant to the decision made anyway (and the umpire would have to be very quick – probably too quick – to blow the whistle before there was evasion).

Whether a ball has gone over a line or not is not in the same sense a judgement i.e. a subjective decision, it is an observation. The ball either did or did not go over the line and that is an entirely objective decision based on facts which can be verified by video replay and/or by measurement from video i.e. independently by another person – objectively by comparing the position of the ball with the position of the line. Legitimate evasive action is at present (from beyond 5m) an entirely subjective decision – it cannot be independently verified because it is a personal opinion (apparently based on whim) –  so very different. Where there is no video umpire what should be objective decisions can become matters of opinion i.e. subjective and not subject to appeal. Other than increasing the number of on-pitch officials there is very little that can be done about this – so the number of officials should be increased.

But (taking the cue from the phrase ‘from beyond 5m’) ‘dangerous’ need not be almost entirely subjectively judged. The rule would be much clearer and fairer and applied more consistently if there was more objectivity about what a dangerously played ball is – in other words if there were additional objective criterion to describe it. The frequently ignored ‘Within 5m and above knee height’ are insufficient for the task (but at least they are there and referral to a third party is possible).  Also insufficient, but there i.e in existence, is the present, entirely subjective, almost unread and certainly generally misapplied, Rule 13.3.l. as it relates to the flick shot during a penalty corner.

13. 3. l  for second and subsequent hits at the goal and for flicks, deflections and scoops, it is permitted to raise the ball to any height but this must not be dangerous

There may be protest at this interpretation, but that somewhat convoluted Rule statement refers to ALL flicks, and scoops, including the first, not just to second or subsequent flicks and scoops. It refers to second or subsequent hits, and mentions them specifically (but not separately as it should), because a first hit-shot is dealt with in a preceding Rule clause. No flick or scoop shot may be made at the goal in a dangerous way during a penalty corner (nor, I must add, at any other time). That conclusion from a reading of Rule 13.3.l is just common sense – and the Rule should also kill ‘stone dead’ any notion that a shot at the goal cannot be dangerous play. Why would the Rules prohibit something that is not possible?

What is “a dangerous way”?  If you want a sensible answer to that question I suggest you stay away from anything written by an umpire coach, particularly (returning a compliment) anything ‘Diligent’ has written, but regrettably, I cannot direct you to anything else, other than the woefully inadequate current Rules of Hockey, from The FIH.

John Gawley’s 2001 umpire coaching paper “The Lifted Ball” once widespread on various hockey related web-sites, is now difficult to find on the Internet, I doubt it is there, but it is so conflicted that it should be avoided anyway – unless you would enjoy identifying the ‘cherries’ that were picked from it in 2004 (and then ‘modified’ in ‘practice’) and those ideas that were discarded.

The statement “A dangerously played ball is one that causes legitimate evasive action.” is treated more as a joke than Explanation for the application of Rule 9.8, and the raising of the ball high into the legs or body of an opponent from close range (which is contrary to both Rule 9.8 and Rule 9.9)  is, without the shame that should be attached to such action, considered to be a skillful way of winning a penalty corner in the opposition’s circle (it is usually done when the opponent is within playing distance of the ball and evasion near impossible) and not what it is, a dangerous play offence (many video clips of this practice occurring are available).

A Rule Authority cannot delete forcing as an offence while at the same time claiming to place an emphasis on player safety. Gawley got that right:he wrote “No player should ever be forced to self-defence“, but that statement never made it into a rule-book. It is evident from both instruction “from above” (see posts in the above forum topic thread) and from observed umpiring practice that the decision that will probably be made if a defender is hit with a raised shot will be a penalty-stroke, because the defender “chose to position in front of the goal” i.e. attempted to defend the goal.

Defending the goal !! A heinous action, worse than not having the skill to defend themselves (even if a defender should not be ‘attacked’ with the ball); whatever next? Deliberately trying to defending the goal !! I’m shocked.





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