Field Hockey Rules: Obstruction, but what kind of.

Rules of Hockey: Obstruction – the wording.

I think there is unsatisfactory wording in the explanation of application of the Obstruction Rule – the Rule Proper is not too bad “Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play the ballif the meaning of ‘obstruct’ is understood and the word ‘attempting’ is not given a bizarre interpretation (two big ‘ifs’) as will be seen in the videos below.

The problems begin immediately, in the first clause.

Players obstruct if they-

shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with the stick or any part of the body
(My underlining)

(in this instance, unlike the case of ‘legitimate evasive action’, ‘legitimate’ here above, obviously does mean ‘legal’, but probably not ‘genuine’ and clearly not ‘necessary’. ‘Legitimate’ is not a good choice of word for the Rule because it is ambiguous – I leave it out)

Why is the word “from” used? “from a legitimate tackle” It is generally the case that a legitimate (legal) tackle cannot be made or even attempted (Rule 9.13) if the ball is being shielded by a ball-holder from an opponent; so the ball is not being shielded from a legitimate tackle, a legal tackle cannot be made, is in fact being prevented, and illegally so, the ball being shielded with just that purpose.

This is clearer:-

Players obstruct if they:-

shield the ball with the stick or any part of the body to prevent or delay an opponent playing at the ball.

Replacing shield the ball from…” , which makes no sense when combined with the rest of the clause, with shield the ball …..to prevent… , (there is no need to mention a tackle at all, the Rule Proper does not), makes sense of what is supposed to be an Explanation of application of the Rule – which does not at present make sense – and the suggested changes would be sufficient as a repair to enable a basic understanding of the Rule. The word ‘from’ could be retained, if it is felt to be necessary to the syntax, but placed elsewhere

Thus: – Players obstruct if they:- shield the ball with the stick or any part of the body to prevent or delay an opponent from playing at the ball. but the inclusion of from adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence, it simply gives flow to it, making the sentence a little easier to say.

There are also a changes to the final clause necessary, to sort out the muddling of obstruction (usually by a player in possession of the ball – obstructive tackling being an exception) with ‘third party’ obstruction.

At present the final clause reads:-

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this is third party or shadow obstruction). This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper or player with goalkeeping privileges) when a penalty corner is being taken.

This could usefully be rewritten:-

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this can also be third party or shadow obstruction). This sometimes happens if a player runs across or blocks an opponent (including the goalkeeper or player with goalkeeping privileges) during a tackle, a shootout or when a penalty corner is being taken.

Oddly third party obstruction is generally well understood and properly penalised, while obstruction by a player in possession of the ball is not. The cause of each of these offences is the same:- preventing an opponent from playing or attempting to play the ball when he or she would otherwise have been able to do so. The only difference is that for a ‘third party’ offence it is not necessary that the player obstructed be within playing distance of the ball at the time of the obstruction. All that is required for ‘third party’ is that but for the obstructive positioning of an opponent the obstructed player would have been able to reach the ball or be in a position to make a challenge for it. For obstruction by a ball holder it is also required that the obstructed player be within playing distance of the ball and but for the obstructive positioning of the ball holder the obstructed player would have been able to play at the ball.

It is denying an opponent the opportunity to play at the ball by illegal positioning between the opponent and the ball that constitutes the offence of obstruction. i.e. preventing an opponent from attempting a legal play at the ball: that is fundamental.

In the video below (which is an outtake from the umpire coaching video) we have an unusual ‘half-way’ situation. The ENG player is not initially in possession of the ball and nor is she a ‘third-party’, she is challenging for the ball. Does she obstruct the USA player? The ‘acid test’ must be “If the ENG player did not turn, as she did, to block off the USA player, would the USA player have been able to reach and play at the ball?” I think the answer to that question is “Yes”, so the USA player was obstructed. It does not matter that the USA player pushes the ball slightly beyond her playing reach before the ENG player imposes her body between the USA player and the ball because she was within playing reach of the ball when obstructed.

 

 

My opinion conflicts with that of Cris Malony, who comments on the incident which is part of a video clip from UmpireHockey.com He suggests in commentary that rather than being obstructed the USA player commits a contact offence (there would obviously be no need to penalise that offence in these circumstances as doing so would severely disadvantage her opponents) I believe that there is no contact offence – at least not by the USA player. The USA player was moving forward; the ENG turned in front of her and then propped with the ball and even moved a little backwards, the USA player was simply unable to avoid running into her but does her best not to. This video was apparently put up to coach umpires how not to make error by penalising for obstruction; when what is really needed is video coaching to enable umpires to recognise obstruction and to encourage them to penalise it when it occurs to the disadvantage of opponents: something that is not happening as much as it should at present.

       https://youtu.be/MnPwIy6VBB4 .com

The shootout incidents, in the umpire coaching video incidents above, are a mixed bag. I see the first of them as obstruction, but the second and third as legal play, because in these latter incidents the ball is not taken into the playing reach of the goalkeeper. These days however the Obstruction Rule seems to be suspended during shootouts; there are several videos on my YouTube channel which illustrate lack of necessary decision, and application (or interpretation) by umpires which does not fit with the wording of the Rule. Here  are two where the attacker commits two offences, obstruction and physical contact (and in the second stick obstruction as well), without penalty against the obstructing player.

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The above incidents are not at all unusual, it is usually declared that the goalkeeper was not trying to play at the ball or was not in a position to play at the ball – without taking account of why that was – prevention by obstruction. In the second one, a penalty stroke was awarded despite the only offences that occurred – initially stepping backwards and into physical contact with an opponent while shielding the ball, and then a third offence, stick obstruction – being committed by the attacker, not by the goalkeeper.

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