Rules of Hockey. The body of a player stops or deflects the ball. Now what?
Rule 9.11 Field players must not stop, kick, propel, pick up, throw or carry the ball with any part of their body.
It Is not always an offence if the ball hits the foot, hand or body of a field player. The player only commits an offence if they gain an advantage or if they position themselves with the intention of stopping the ball in this way.
It is not an offence if the ball hits the hand holding the stick but would otherwise have hit the stick.
On first reading the Rule and the Explanation of how it is to be applied seems to be straightforward. But, on the evidence of how it is applied, it has to be the most badly written Rule in the rule-book.
Alternatively, very few umpires are taking any notice at all of the Explanation of application that the FIH Rules Committee have provided with the Rule. It does not matter how that instruction is written because umpire are generally applying the Rule Proper and ignoring the provided instructions about how it is to be applied. I can’t think of any other Rule where this approach to the application of it is taken.
In this article, which is only the content of two short video clips, we will look at a team not gaining an advantage because of a ball-body contact – not at all an unusual outcome.
Description. A shot is taken from close range and the goalkeeper blocks it. The ball rebounds from the goalkeeper’s pads and hit the foot of a defender, who attempted to get his foot out of the path of the ball. The ball deflects only slightly, if at all, off the defender and is then collected by a player of the same team as the defender.
Why is there no advantage gained and therefore no offence ? For two reasons:- Firstly, the ball would still have been comfortably collected by a same team player if the contact had not taken place, so the contact made no difference to the outcome: nothing was gained by the defending team that they would not otherwise have had in this case.
Secondly, the opposing team were not disadvantaged in any way (so even if there had been an offence e.g. an intentional ball-foot contact, following Rule 12.1. there would have been no reason to penalise it i.e. no need for the umpire to intervene).
12.1 Advantage : a penalty is awarded only when a player or team has been disadvantaged by an opponent breaking the Rules.
12.3 A penalty corner is awarded :
a for an offence by a defender in the circle which does not prevent the probable scoring of a goal
b for an intentional offence in the circle by a defender against an opponent who does not have possession of the ball or an opportunity to play the ball
The incidents in the second video are worse because the absence of any advantage gained by the ball-foot contacts could not be clearer and there was no possibility whatsoever of any disadvantaging the opposing team.
Description. The initial penalty corner was awarded for a high deflection (not shown) of the ball into an opposing player by a defender in the circle, endangering a player contrary to Explanation given with Rule 9.9.
First penalty corner. The first shot was taken and hit the foot of the defender positioned with his left foot positioned to the front of the goalpost nearer the umpire. The umpire was aware that the ball had hit that foot and then gone out of play over the base-line, but did not know if the shot was on target (which would have resulted in the award of a penalty stroke – the advantage that would then have been gained is obvious). His colleague informed him the shot was going wide of the post: he then, without hesitation, awarded another penalty corner !!!
For what? There was no advantage gained, the ball was going off the pitch and it still went off the pitch – at the same speed and for all intents and purposes, in exactly the same place. In fact the defending side should have been disadvantaged by the contact, with the award of a 23m restart to the opposing team, rather than the 15m restart they would have had if the ball had gone off without the ball-foot contact.
Second penalty corner. Incredibly, exactly the same scenario was played out during the second penalty corner and again the umpire, consistently (bravo), awarded yet another penalty corner.
Third penalty corner. The shot for the third penalty corner, again intended to be just inside the goal-post, was this time on-target and the defender stopped it with his stick and cleared it away.
But two penalty corners were awarded that should not have been and this seems to be the norm. During a match there are probably between five and ten times as many free-balls awarded for ball-body contact as for all other offences put together. The vast majority of penalty corners are awarded for ball-body contact – and the astonishing thing is that about 95% of both free-balls and penalty corners should not be awarded – play could and should have been allowed to continue or in the case of the penalty corner awarded when the ball has continued on out of play, a 23m restart for the attacking team should have been awarded.
It is not difficult to see why this happens and it is by no means a new phenomena. Back in the early 1980’s I was one weekend in a group of umpires who were officiating at a club tournament and heard one of them say, to a relatively inexperienced umpire, that he always penalised all ball-foot contacts because there was always some sort of advantage gained by such contact.
In other words he was bone idle, didn’t like to be made to think and didn’t give a toss about fair play (all of which he would have denied, but he would have been hard pressed to explain why, according to the Rule, penalty should be awarded only when an advantage was gained if an advantage was always gained: why did the HRB bother to point to exception if there was never an exception). He was however considered a good umpire because he was very consistent in penalising both obstruction and ball-foot contact.
Things have changed since then, both forcing and obstruction (ball shielding) are now ignored – driving the interpretation and application of ball-body contact and obstruction to opposite extremes: all and nothing.