Field Hockey Rules: Misapplication.

Edit. 20th July 2017 more video added.

World Cup Final 2014.  Sports commentators, perhaps misguided by the notion that if an FIH Umpire applies or fails to apply a Rule in a certain way (using ‘common practice’) then that way must be correct, cause confusion among viewers by lauding a foul by a NED player as if it was proper and a desirable skill.

Below is what the FIH Rules Committee wrote under the heading ‘Rule Changes’ in 2011 in the Rules of Hockey – when ‘forcing’ was deleted as a stand alone offence.

The changes in this edition of the Rules essentially seek to simplify the game without altering its fundamental characteristics.

The Rule which used to say that “players must not force an opponent into offending unintentionally” is deleted because any action of this sort can be dealt with under other Rules. (my bold)

(My apologies that above statements, which remain extant, are more than six months ‘old’ and were given in writing in a previous rule-book – and are therefore ‘black and white’ and ‘ancient history’ – unlike the ‘latest interpretations’, stories of unknown origin, which are passed on by word of mouth – it is difficult to think of a more inaccurate form of communication – or in Internet hockey forum, the worse form of cascade).

If an illegal playing action results in penalty in the opposite direction to that which it did (or should have) previously then there has been a fundamental change to the way in which the game is officiated and therefore played i.e a change in its characteristics.

The aim of simplification was achieved, it is simple to always penalise, no matter what the circumstances, a player who makes a ball-body contact: this is what is happening and it is simple-minded.

The words “any action of this sort can be dealt with under other Rules” can only mean in the context, that any forcing action can and should be penalised using other Rules already in place at the time. But by 2014 ‘the interpretation’ was the opposite, it was always the player forced to ball-body contact who was penalised.

In fact this was also the case prior to 2011, when the forcing (of ball-body contact in particular) was still clearly an offence, by the player doing the forcing. So as far as umpires were concerned there was no fundamental change in 2011, they just kept doing what they had ‘always’ done and misapplied the ball-body contact Rule – often when the forcing action was also clearly dangerous play.

At one time (1992) ‘what umpires had always done’ i.e ignored the written Rule or ‘interpreted’ it in a bizarre way (in a way opposite to the way it was intended to be applied) so infuriated the Rules Committee (at the time called the FIH Hockey Rules Board) that the criterion for a ball-body offence was changed to – both deliberately using the body to stop or deflect the ball and the gaining of an advantage.

That change to the criterion for a ball-body contact offence made no difference whatsoever to the way umpires applied the Rule, they just continued doing exactly as they had done prior to 1992, when the two criteria were –  intentional use of the body or a gain of advantage (and they umpired as if any ball body contact always gave an advantage to the player hit with the ball, which was what led to the change made in 1992. That ‘penalise all’ approach to ball -body contact is familiar to us now, in 2017).

(‘Gaining a benefit’ was deleted in Jan 2007 – without making any difference at all to umpiring practice (Peter von Reth would not allow it to), and only reinstated, as ‘gains an advantage’, in May of 2015, so we have recently completed yet another cycle of the ball-body contact ‘no change to umpiring practice’ merry-go-round.

The most recent development in the forcing and ball-body contact saga has been the introduction (2017) of a ‘drilling’ dangerous play offence in indoor hockey (dangerous forcing using high ball velocity combined with a spin with the ball from a shielding position)- but with no counterpart in the outdoor game – despite a declaration from the FIH that the Rules for the two games will be kept ‘in sync’ as far as is possible.

The action of the NED player in the first video is a ‘shield, spin and drill’ and the defender had very little chance of avoiding the ball-body contact the attacker intended would result. I can’t see what advantage the defending team gained from the ball-leg contact, so I don’t know why the defender was penalised. The match commentators had no doubt that the forcing of the contact was carried out deliberately, they just had no idea that such forcing is supposed to be penalised (as any forcing may be) under “other Rules” – that is no surprise, this action never has been penalised as it should be.

‘Drilling’ following a spin-turn from a ball shielding position developed because ball shielding (obstruction) has not been penalised as it should be since around 1994.

The following video shows an attacker deliberately raising the ball into the legs of a defender from within 1m; the ball then deflecting off the defender to the advantage of the attacker (so the defender could not possibly have gained an advantage because the attacker did, the ball-leg contact was clearly not intended by the defender, so according to the Rules of Hockey the defender did not commit an offence). The attacker declined to play on, the umpire awarded a penalty corner

 

Dangerous play, arising from a dangerously played ball, has not been penalised as it should be since around 2002 (following the publication of The Lifted Ball an umpire coaching document, produced in the previous year). There followed in 2004 a number of Rule deletions and amendments which eventually led to the ‘on target shot’ nonsense.

An blatant example (below) of deliberate forcing by an attacker who preferred to ‘win’ a penalty corner rather than attempt to shoot at the goal even though he was in the circle and goal-side of the defender he fouled. This was combined with what is technically dangerous play (the ball propelled at low velocity so unlikely to cause injury, but contrary to Rule 9.9 as it hit the defender, from within 5m – and also at at above knee height – but that latter point is not a criteria for the offence, the Explanation of application of Rule 9.9. mentions only the raising of the ball towards an opponent, it does not stipulate a minimum height). Penalty corner awarded.

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Here is another blantant example from the 2014 World Cup Final.


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The umpire was positioned directly behind the player who was hit with the ball and could have had no idea how high it was raised (it hit the defender on his thigh) but he waved away protest from the NED players. He should however have been aware that the AUS player charged bodily into the NED defender following raising the ball into him. Why the NED players did not go to video referral I don’t know; bitter experience perhaps, but the goal scored against them from the corner must have been more bitter to swallow. What was laughable about this incident was the amount of trouble the umpire went to to ensure that the ball was placed on the base-line before it was inserted, very close to the line was not good enough: an insistence on technical Rule compliance which was at odds with the seriousness of the deliberate dangerous play/forcing Conduct of Play offence he rewarded the AUS team for. The match commentators saw nothing untoward about the AUS player’s forcing action, the physical contact or the award of a penalty corner against the NED team; they expected the award of the penalty corner the AUS player went ‘looking for’.

Rule 9.9. Explanation of application. Players are permitted to raise the ball with a flick or scoop provided it is not dangerous. A flick or scoop towards an opponent within 5 metres is considered dangerous.

There is a lot of confusion between this Explanation of application given with Rule 13.3.l. which is about a first shot at the goal during a penalty corner:-

if a defender is within five metres of the first shot at goal during the taking of a penalty corner and is struck by the ball below the knee, another penalty corner must be awarded or is struck on or above the knee in a normal stance, the shot is judged to be dangerous and a free hit must be awarded to the defending team.

and what is given as Explanation to Rule 9.9 regarding dangerous play.

In open play, which is subject to Rule 9.9 but not Rule 13.3.l. a ball may not be raised towards (at, into) an opponent within 5m – there is no minimum height given for there to be a dangerous play offence when the ball is so raised. The Umpire Mangers’ Briefing(which is not the Rules of Hockey) states that a ball raised into an opponent, in a controlled way, at below half shin-pad height (20cms?) is not dangerous (this statement conflicts with what is given in Rule 9.9 – such conflicts should not happen)

General practice is to (sometimes) penalise for dangerous play only if the ball is raised into an opponent at or above knee height, but there is no Rule support whatsoever for this practice in open play. The video umpire based her recommendation for a free ball to the AUS team on the ball being played into the AUS defender at knee height. The match commentators were sure a penalty corner would be awarded – so the Rule knowledge of the video umpire was marginally better than that of the commentators, but not correct. There can be no doubt that had the ball been raised into the defender’s shin, rather than into her knee, a penalty corner would have been recommended by the video umpire.

 

 

The fundamental characteristics of hockey have been dramatically changed in the last twenty years because of changes to the application of the Rules. Some, but very few, of the changes made to the Rules have resulted in betterment of the game, however, if applied correctly, many more of them would have done (and fewer changes would have been made necessary). The self-pass is a good example of an opportunity missed, caused first by bizarre ‘interpretations’ (for example direction of retreat by opponents) and then by the introduction of unnecessary Rules in relation to it (moving the ball 5m before playing it into the circle, which was a result of the unnecessary Rule that a free ball awarded in the opponent’s 23m area may not be played directly into the circle) The prohibition on an intentionally raised hit is an example of an unnecessary Rule which led to a need to introduce more Rules and also to ‘interpretation’ “forget lifted” to circumvent it (why not instead clarify the dangerously played ball Rule by adding objective criterion?)

There are still a number of ‘loopy’ Rules in place (as dangerous or nonsensical as the now deleted ‘Own goal’) but the biggest danger to players and the future of the game is ‘interpretation’ and ‘common practice’ (umpires being instructed to ‘overrule’ the Rules provided by the FIH Rules Committee), examples of which are seen in the above videos from some of the most senior umpires in the world  – i.e. personal opinion – derived from direction and coaching – that bears no resemblance to the meaning of the wording given in and with the FIH Rules of Hockey.

Players, who are required to be aware of the Rules of Hockey and play according to them, have no chance of doing so with the ‘interpretations’ shown above. While players who deliberately breach the Rules, are coached to flout them, get away with doing so because what they are doing has become ‘accepted’ and ‘common practice’ – the memes of hockey.

 

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