Field Hockey Rules: Dangerously played ball change of definition

A reminder from redumpire on fieldhockeyforum that the Rules of Hockey for 2017 -, come into effect in England on 1st August 2017, and that there are some changes.

The change to the definition of a dangerously played ball (the ‘dead horse’) is significant even if it does not at first sight appear to be so.

To ride for a while on another well worn hobby-horse, I am mindful that a change of one word in the ‘Rules Interpretations’ (a section in the back of Rule Books prior to 2004) destroyed the Obstruction Rule after 1994 and was the cause of a dramatic change to the way in which hockey is played, which was not intended at the time (by 2002 there was instruction to umpires in the rule-book towatch for players who stand still and shield the ball when under pressure” – but I get ahead of myself and mention things out of sequence).

The one word change:-
Having received the ball the receiver must move away in any direction except… was changed to Having received the ball the receiver may move away in any direction except …..

That one word change (in effect the biggest change to the Rules of Hockey in the last fifty years) turned an instruction and clear directive into a comment and a choice, and by subsequent interpretation ((sic) now that the door was open to additional interpretations without their being any change to the wording of the Rule Proper), allowed a receiver to remain stationary after having received the ball if he or she choose to do so. (It was then declared by various groups that a player in possession of the ball could not obstruct if stationary – an absurdity). Repeating myself: – by 2002 there was instruction to umpires in the rule-book to “watch for players who stand still and shield the ball when under pressure“, so the HRB were clearly not happy with an ‘interpretation’ that took the opposite approach – but that didn’t make any difference to those who took it: no surprise there.

By 1998 the late George Croft, who was at that time the Hon. Sec. of the Hockey Rules Board, felt obliged to write in the Preface of the 1998 rule-book “Despite what some people think there is still an Obstruction Rule.” The mistake the Hockey Rules Board made was to introduce the change there was to the Obstruction Rule when a player was receiving of the ball (1992) as a new interpretation when it is (it is still extant) in fact a limited exception to the Rule (which applies only when a receiver is in the act of receiving and controlling the ball). That is still the case; what constituted Obstruction in 1993, did so after the rewrites of 1995 and 2004 and still does in 2017. The oft repeated, particularly between 1994 and 2004, “There has been no change to the Rule….“, meant exactly that.

To try to rein in the bolted horse of unauthorized ‘interpretation’, in 2002, at the behest of the HRB, the FIH Executive Committee issued a circular which informed and instructed National Associations that only the HRB could alter a Rule or an Interpretation of a Rule; nobody else, no individual official, no other group, were (or are) permitted to do so. Regrettably that was like shutting the stable door long after the horse was over the horizon, and the horse has never been recaptured (it has bred with other escapees and there are now a herd of these horses running wild). Nowadays it seems as if anybody and everybody can invent an interpretation of any Rule  and declare it to be a subjective opinion they are entitled to have  – and, if they are an umpire or umpire coach, to impose. (The unresolved dichotomy between attempting and preventing a tackle, muddled with the positioning of both the ball holder and the tackler, is a case in point)

The more recent (2004) is permitted to move off in any direction except is not an improvement on (the 1994) may move away The meaning is about the same (off and away have different meanings but the key point here is movement of or with the ball to put or take it beyond the playing reach of opponents), but anyone not familiar with previous Rules could be forgiven for thinking that at some previous date a receiving player was not permitted to move off with the ball – a net-ball rule, which would be an absurdity if ever applied to hockey.

It is the part after except that should now be considered part of the instruction in Rule 9.12, but as it is expressed as an exception and therefore in the negative, this instruction is not as clear as it could be and it is commonly ignored.

Unfortunately the statement following  ‘except’ is not contained in the first ten words of the Explanation of application of Rule 9.12 (although as the latest amended it could reasonably be the first paragraph of it) and few participants appear to read beyond the first sentence presented in the Explanation of application of any Rule or to very quickly ‘switch-off’ and ‘skim’ the wording instead of reading for understanding.


Mounting another hobby-horse


The change to the definition of a dangerously played ball.

There is no danger of falling asleep while reading the Explanation of application of Rule 9.8, which is the Rule concerning a dangerously played ball. The entire thing is a single short sentence – now comprising only fourteen words, (but to keep learners alert, to encourage endless quarrels, and to be a reason for Rule confusion and ignorance, other Explanation of application concerning a dangerously played ball is scattered about in several other Rules. e.g. Rules 9.9, 9.10, 13.3.k. 13.3.l, etc. – and some parts appear to conflict with others. When it is declared, as it frequently has been over the last twenty years, that this or that change has been made with the aim of simplification and clarification, I feel, in view of the mess that has been created, that those who made (and make) such claims were (are) being more sarcastic or cynical than I could possibly be despite the practice I put in).




I describe the change as a welcome one (because it gives an argument against those who insist that there can be no dangerously played ball if evasive action is not taken) but also inadequate, because the statement A ball is also considered dangerous when it causes legitimate evasive action leaves a basic flaw of the statement in place – which is describing “dangerous which is a subjective judgement, in terms of “legitimate“, which is also a subjective judgement, and moreover one that it is impossible to be certain about.

A second, but smaller flaw, is the use of the ambiguous term ‘legitimate’, but at least this magnificent expansion (the additional word) nods towards the possibility that legitimate evasive action is not the sole determination of a dangerously played ball – something that has been obvious for many years.

Does legitimate in the context mean legal or genuine or necessary (to give some dictionary definitions)? These are neither inclusive or exclusive meanings. Evasion can never be illegal, that is never be contrary to Rule.9.8, but it may be genuine without being necessary, a player may duck a ball moving at high velocity towards his or her position which is deflected or intercepted before reaching that player. Necessary evasive action (necessary to avoid being hit with the ball) will, on the other hand, always be genuine because it is necessary.

Not taking evasive action may not be an illegal choice or not a choice at all, if for example there is inadequate time to react to the ball or it is not seen by the player before he or she is hit with it, or if the player is forced to self defence with his or her stick (possibly because the player is certain, from previous experience, that if he or she evades the ball to avoid injury when a shot at the goal is made, and the ball goes into the goal, a goal will be awarded; not, as should be the case, a free ball awarded to the defending team). I think it reasonable to conclude that legitimate evasive action would more sensibly be described as action necessary to avoid possible injury with the ball – and it would be wise to avoid use of the equivocal term ‘legitimate’.

Is necessary evasive action necessary because the player taking it believes it to be necessary or because an umpire does so ? If it is the umpire who makes this judgement (and that is usually the case because an umpire can overrule the opinion of a player), how does he or she do so? Is the judgement based on the player’s skill level – which is also a subjective judgement, one which requires expert knowledge of the individual players involved (or, an unreasonable assumption, that all players of a certain level will always have the skill needed to safely play any ball propelled at them in any way whatsoever), or is it based on mind-reading? That a player managers to safely play a ball that has been raised in a way that could injure him or her is not a reason to suppose that the ball was not played at that player in a dangerous way. On another occasion the same player could very well be injured by a similarly raised ball.

The forcing of self-defence (with the stick) by the endangered player should also in certain circumstances (related to distance and height) be considered to be dangerous play by the player who propelled the ball.

There is an obvious need for objectivity when describing a dangerously played ball, i.e. objective facts that can be verified by video or measuring instruments or other comparisons; for example:

1) The ball is propelled towards an opponent,


2) The ball is propelled at high velocity (something that can be accurately timed over distance) Is the velocity the same or almost the same as that of a ball hit with maximum power.   Is the velocity of the ball likely to result in the injury of anyone hit with it or is there a only a velocity which will result in the ball falling to ground before it has traveled 5m? The umpire, being human like all players, might consider “If a ball hit me at that velocity would it hurt or injure me?”. 


3) The ball is raised above various given heights (half shin-pad, knee height, elbow height, shoulder height) based on the distance from an opponent from which it is propelled.


4) The ball is propelled from within various given distances (playing distance, within 5m, within 15m) based on the height to which it is raised.

Evasion is not always required for a ball to be considered dangerously raised; the present Rule 9.9. has for many years stated that a ball raised with a flick or scoop towards an opponent within 5m is dangerous play (there is no minimum height mentioned) without there being any mention of evasive action, but not much notice is taken of this Rule. The cynic in me thinks this laxity reflects the current state of the declared emphasis on player safety.


Putting the above objective criterion in place may require a the addition of two or three hundred words to the Explanation of application (which could result in the simplification of other Rules). At the pace the problems concerning the making of ‘dangerously’ judgements are being addressed – one word at a time over a period of (20 +) years (which, as has been shown above, is not always safe practice) – there might be an adequate Rule in place by the year 3000, but there probably will not be, because the problems of using  subjective judgement almost entirely, rather than objective criterion to determine  ‘dangerously’, are not yet being addressed. These problems have not yet even been acknowledged to exist. Even the fact that subjective judgement of a dangerously made shot has, in some instances, been replaced with the objective criteria ‘on target’, has  not been acknowledged to have had impact on the subjectivity of such decisions, when they are clearly not subjective decisions at all.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step – but the right direction is a consideration if the intended destination is to be arrived at. One small step has been taken, but what next, in which direction are we going?


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