Archive for ‘Interpretation’

May 28, 2017

Field Hockey Rules: “It is generally accepted…”

Edit. Posts from FHF contributor nerd-is-the-word and comment added.

Perhaps I am no longer an isolated voice pointing out something that everybody else denies has happened or is happening, but I have been writing about the conflict between what I think is ‘generally accepted’ to be publicity pap “the emphasis on safety” “consideration for the safety of others” “playing responsibly”, and the realities of competitive hockey, for many years and have received much more abuse than praise for my pains.

If there was genuine concern about dangerous play and  player safety the Rules would be different: giving just two examples- 1) the Rule prohibiting the raising of the ball at another player would not have been (2004) deleted/transferred, ‘watered down’ to become a confused  Explanation of Rule 9.9 and a 5m limit added to it, and then be ignored (2008 Olympics) if such a raised ball was a shot at the goal.  2) Forcing, particularly the forcing of self-defence, which is never mentioned except as a lack of skill on the part of a player hit with the ball, would not have been deleted (2011) as an offence in itself.

I have to disagree with Krebsy’s presumption that much of the present conflict has the support of or was instigated by “the FIH”. What is “the FIH”? As far as the Rules of Hockey are concerned the term means both ‘a who’ and ‘a how’: it should mean the FIH Executive Committee.  There is a process for drafting and adopting a Rule proposal into Full Rule and if that process is not adhered to by the proper parties then that proposal, idea, opinion, call it what you will, is not and cannot be a Rule of Hockey. This fact does not appear to be generally understood. It does not matter a straw how FIH Umpires are applying what they think are Rules – if the application or interpretation they are applying is not printed in the rule-book or as is sometimes the case, even conflicts with what is in the Rules of Hockey – it is not a Rule.

The procedure demands that the FIH Rules Committee – no one else, no other body, no other person or group of people  – draft a proposed Rule and then submit it to the FIH Executive for approval. If the proposal is approved by the Executive (who may instead send it back to the Rules Committee for further work) it may then be included in the Rules of Hockey. This process often takes some years, as trials or Mandatory Experiments may be necessary before a decision can be reached. The FIH Rules Committee cannot draft and then approve a Rule on their own. The FIH Executive cannot both propose and then approve a Rule or a Rule amendment on their own; there is a separation of powers and both committees perform their tasks independently (I find it odd that any individual could be a member of both committees but this has happened). This system is slow but it works tolerably well.

But the official procedure is badly undermined by another part of “the FIH” the committee who has charge of the appointment and training of umpires The FIH Umpiring Committee, who are said to ‘liaise’ with the FIH Rules Committee on Rule proposals and on the application of Rules which have been approved by the Excutive and are part of the Rules of Hockey.

Gingerbread mentions in his post above the opinion of a L2 (umpire) coach and of an FIH Umpire. He does not appear to understand that a dangerously played ball decision is usually entirely subjective – in other words the opinion solely of an umpire officiating the match – an un-involved L2 umpire coach or an FIH Umpire cannot, unless there is also a clear breach of an objective Rule criteria, offer a contrary opinion about a personal judgement made by any other umpire at any level i.e. say such a decision is wrong – at best they might say that they would not in the circumstances have made the same decision. (That such decisions are generally entirely subjective is I feel unsatisfactory, because they are often both technically wrong and unfair, but cannot be challenged. Umpires tend to see subjective decision making as a strength of the current system and vigorously defend their ability to make such decisions , I see it as a weakness.) It is telling that Gingerbread goes not to the Rules of Hockey but to the irrelevant opinions of more senior umpires (to what others are doing), which in the circumstances he describes have nothing at all to do with the Rules of Hockey .

I have had experience at a low level of the ‘generally accepted’ way of applying Rule, which has no Rule support, being demanded of me. During October 2009, in the period after the deletion of ‘gains benefit’ from Rule 9.11. I umpired a very one-sided match between a strong veterans team and a club 4XI which was a mixture of colts, vets and a few experienced players of 4th team standard in a club which ran six teams. The veterans won 12-0. That evening, without saying anything at all to me, the captain of the losing team complained to the County Umpiring Association that I had not penalised ball-body contact at all, allowing play to continue whenever it occurred i.e. I had not applied Rule 9.11 correctly.

The veterans team were not happy with my performance either, because it was very unusual and allowed them little in the way of the ‘breathers’ the award of  a free-ball provides, but because their team contained some experience umpires, they at least understood what I was doing – they also quickly understood that shoving the ball onto an opponent’s foot was not going to ‘win’ them a free ball and they were therefore obliged to beat opponents with speed and/or stick-skills or play a passing game: in the passing game they were far superior to their opponents.

The result of the complaint was a visit from an official from the Middlesex County Umpiring Association the following weekend. He informed me of the complaint and asked me what was going on and I informed him that I had applied Rule 9.11 exactly as it was (sic) currently written in the Rules of Hockey – the criterion for a ball-body contact offence at the time was intent or voluntarily made contact and there was no other.  (I have to say that at the time I though that the complete deletion of gains benefit was an error by the then FIH Hockey Rules Board and that in some instances it should have remained applicable (I have written in another article – – suggestions for a gains benefit clause for Rule 9.11), but the application of it in 2006, prior to the deletion, was a ‘generally accepted’ umpiring practice in which any ball-body contact was seen as the gaining of a benefit, which made a nonsense of having that criteria (as an exception to not an offence) at all – and the removal of that dumb ‘interpretation’, even if it meant removing the criteria, was a good thing because the ‘interpretation’ itself removed the criteria).  I was in 2009 however not in a position to impose ‘gains benefit’ at all (even if there was benefit gained by a ball-body contact- which was seldom) as the criteria was no longer in the Rule.

Having listened to what I had to say the County Official then said “Martin I don’t want you applying the Rules according to what is in the rule-book, I want you to umpire as other umpires are umpiring” (thereby exceeding his authority). I replied that  I could only do as other umpires were doing if what they were doing was in accord with what was given in the Rules of Hockey. I was never again appointed to umpire a match in Middlesex. I should add that having coached an international team and previously regularly umpired at First XI level, I was not utterly distraught at my ejection as an umpire at 4th team level (who would be?) but I was annoyed because of the reason for it.

That experience has some similarities to the dilemma top umpires are put in when told by FIH Tournament Directors or FIH Umpire Managers to take a certain line to particular instances (with what are supposed to be their own subjective judgements) like a ball raised into a player in front of the goal or a ball-foot contact by a defender in the defended circle. Do they apply the Rules of Hockey and risk not receiving any further appointments – even risk being downgraded – or do they comply with the required, completely unauthorised, inventions and achieve their aim of becoming “hugely experienced and highly respected FIH Umpires” ?

The ‘gains benefit’ saga is a prime example of a change being imposed in a way that was without any authority whatsoever. The history of this episode is one of the reasons I ‘dug my heels in’ when (in effect) told to comply with it.

Due to the ‘generally accepted’ way of applying ‘gains benefit’  prior to 2007, mentioned above, the FIH Rules Committee deleted that criteria for a ball-body contact offence in the Rules of Hockey issued in January 2007. In February 2007 Peter von Reth authored an ‘Official Interpretation’ on the FIH website in which he explained (without offering a rational explanation) that he and the Chairman of the FIH Rules Committee had agreed to the reinstatement of the ‘gains benefit’ clause and it would continue to be applied as it had been applied in 2006.

Here is the irrational explanation for the reversion that was offered:-

The 2005/6 Rules indicated that it was not an offence if the ball hits the foot, hand or body of a field player unless that player or their team benefits from this. However, as with other rules, this continues to be an offence if benefit is gained. Rule 9.11 should therefore continue to be applied taking into account any benefit gained by the player or their team.


Why is that statement irrational? Because “unless that player or their team benefits from this” means exactly the same as “if benefit is gained“, so the entire explanation offered is contained in the words “However” and “Therefore” and justified by “general discussion” and the unspecified feedback apparently received from various parties and a few National Associations, after the change to the Explanation of Rule 9.11. was made public.

The previous long-term disquiet about the way the Rule was being applied under the 2005/6 Rules of Hockey and those of previous years  – the reason for the change made by the FIH Rules Committee, active from Januray 2007, after the usual consultations with all parties when a change is to be proposed to the FIH Executive, had taken place, was just brushed aside.

This ‘no change’ action cannot have been the result of a legitimate procedure, not having been initiated by the FIH Rules Committee or approved by the FIH Executive and it is entirely possible that Peter von Reth, having been out-voted in the Rules Committee, simply hijacked the FIH website to impose his will.  On reading that ‘Official Interpretation’ my reaction, knowing that he had exceeded his authority, was “Over my dead body”.

Why didn’t the FIH Executive reprimand Peter von Reth and issue a counter-statement affirming their previous decision? I suppose for the sake of the appearance of unity (like a match umpire seeing a colleague make a horrible blunder but not intervening to correct it)  and the avoidance of loss of face for one of the most senior of the FIH officials, he was a member of the FIH Rules Committee and Chair of the Umpiring Committee at the time.

There was no unity: gains benefit did not reappear in a rule-book until 2016 – in the form “gains an advantage”, but for more than eight years umpires applied it as if it was part of a Rule in the Rules of Hockey.  The FIH Rules Committee and the FIH Umpiring Committee via Umpire Managers were using different versions of the Rules of Hockey and the latter were not applying the published version. Where did ‘the FIH’ stand on this? Who knows? There was a resounding silence but it is clear that the FIH Hockey Rules Board did not support the reinstatement of the ‘gains benefit’ clause. 

How many other ‘interpretations’ (inventions/distortions/subversions) are applied in a way similar to the way ‘gains benefit’ was generally applied between February 2007 and May 2015?   Quite a few (and without the dubious ‘benefit’ of being in any way declared an Official Interpretation).

Regrettably the fact that an FIH Umpire is seen to penalise or fail to penalise a particular action is not an indication that it is or is not in breach of a Rule of Hockey. “All FIH Umpires umpire this in this way“, an oft used justification for a particular decision (a Keely Dunn favourite), is not at all an assurance that “this way” is in compliance with the Rules of Hockey.

The statement “An ‘on target’ shot at goal cannot be dangerous play”, was first heard in public – from a television commentator – during Tournament play at the 2008 Olympics, where an emboldened Peter von Reth was the Tournament Director. There has been, as Krebsy has pointed out, no correction  to this statement (which was repeated by an umpire to a player during a match in the 2010 World Cup) issued by ‘the FIH’, so here we go again.

There has to be change to the current system. There are a far greater number of umpire managers than there are members of the FIH Rules Committee; perhaps it would be better if senior umpire managers were formed into a rules committee that acted in place of and in the same way as the present FIH Rules Committee? But then do we want the Rules of Hockey to be determined by umpires, who, as is generally accepted, know nothing at all about playing hockey? The present FIH Rules Committee has about the same number of umpires as it has former players. The latter, it is generally accepted, especially if they played at international level, previously knew nothing at all about the Rules of Hockey. These generalisations about the Rule and hockey knowledge of players and umpires respectively, although there is a grain of truth to them, are of course a nonsense, but so is much, even most, of what is now generally considered to be acceptable umpiring.

On the subject of nonsense we need not look much further than than these conflicting posts by nerd_is_the_word (NITW), a contributor to FHF.


The defender causes danger by positioning etc. was an argument for penalising the defender, if hit with the ball, initially advanced by Keely Dunn back in August 2006, when she first joined FHF. I ‘crossed swords’ with her over it on the forum at the time. Whether it was her own idea or a proposal given to her by her ‘FIH insider’ I don’t  know. NITW has obviously given this nonsense no further though, he just repeats it. He is clearly not in complete agreement with all that Kerbsy wrote, but with just the second sentence.

Has he cast me as a conspiracy theorist? Surely not, I have written history, but that there was a conspiracy, by a few FIH officials, to subvert a Rule of Hockey in February 2007, cannot be denied: the conspirators announced the nature and purpose of the subversion and their conspiracy, at the time.

But then a few hours after his previous post NITW writes this:-


“lf l was defending, and had been hit in the chest, and the umpire told me that they didn’t see the lift but did see it hit me, I would be livid that the umpire had clearly seen a dangerous ball (he has seen it hit me in the chest) but will then be penalising me for being hit in the chest.”

Why should he be livid with the umpire for following a practice he himself has advocated – penalising a defender hit with the ball if he chooses to position to defend the goal?  – Well yes of course he should be livid in those circumstances; a dangerously played ball cannot reasonably result in penalty against a defender hit with it.  Completely agree with that NITW. The lad is clearly very confused and needs help. He even appears to believe, looking at a later post, that the FIH have issued a directive which they have not put in writing. Sorry mate – not in writing (and addressed to all National Associations), not a Rule directive from the FIH Executive – and therefore not part of the Rules of Hockey.



March 31, 2017

Field Hockey Rules: Explaining

Here is a nice bit of ambiguity highlighted in a ‘discussion’ between the owners of the tags redumpre, and Cardhappy, it’s about the umpire’s signal for a bully.

What is the ambiguity? Whether the hands are together moved upwards and then downwards alternately (with perhaps a touch at the top?) or one hand is moved up while the other is being moved down each hand being alternately moved up and then down- one hand being up when the other is down – but no contact. –

What does ‘alternately’ mean in the description given in the rule-book?

(I guess we can no longer accurately say “rule-book” now that we have a replacement apt – a development which makes me uneasy considering the way Rules have previously disappeared or been invented, with either the exact form of previous existence or the fact of invention being later denied. It’s more difficult to deny a printed document than an internet web page, a copy of which has not been printed out. I have always been uneasy about the fact that previous rule-books are not archived and readily accessible for comparison, we have only an incomplete ‘potted history’ of the Rules)

I have always used the latter method, but Cris Maloney (umpire is right, that signal is not similar to the required bully action that is being signalled – it’s nothing like it – but this signal method is the traditional practice and it is understood – hence the ‘blindness’ and the sarky criticism. I am ashamed to say that is why I used it, ashamed because I have been very critical of others for applying Rules in a particular way just because their peers do so – same as them, I just didn’t give it any thought.

Explaining things is not always easy – although not difficult in this case – but redumpire (David Elcock) seems to believe that by repeating the word ‘alternately’ and using bold text when doing so, he explains it and its use (the Englishman abroad speaking to a resident native, slowly and loudly in English) – common words and simple constructions of them have to be used i.e. language that is completely and identically understood by both parties.

This quote is attributed to Albert Einstein.

If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough. although of course he did not say that, it has been ‘edited’ to make a more ‘catchy’ statement from what he did say. The original statement is likely to have been as from this report of a conversation with another scientist, recalled after Einstein’s death.

“All physical theories, their mathematical expressions apart, ought to lend themselves to so simple a description that even a child could understand them” Not nearly as ‘snappy’ (or simple) a statement.

This is also attributed to Einstein and I think is more likely to be accurately reported even if it isn’t grammatically correct  – it’s truncated (by someone who’s mother language was not English) perhaps to avoid repetition of the word  “possible”( although “necessary” would have been a better word choice) .

Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler (than is necessary to enable complete understanding).

Richard Feynman came closer to the popular ‘quote’,  but he was probably paraphrasing Einstein. Feynman was asked by the Dean of Cornell University (where Feynman was a physics professor) to explain to the faculty why spin half-particles obey Femi-Dirac statistics (I don’t even understand the terms of the question although I have a vague idea what statistics are and have read a biography of Dirac). Feynman, no doubt correctly, thought that the explanation to the faculty would have to be pitched at undergraduate (or freshman) level and went off to prepare his lecture. A couple of days later he contacted the Dean and reportedly (recalled after his death) said ” I couldn’t reduce the subject to freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.”

Einstein by “a child” possibly meant a very smart twelve year old, rather than the six year old mentioned in related quotes from others. Six year old children are unlikely to have the vocabulary necessary to follow even fairly simple explanations of complex situations and – if the theories of the educational psychiatrist Piaget are accepted – are not sufficiently mentally developed to form the necessary abstract concepts from all that is said to them: concepts that even a quite dull adult (a barmaid or a grandmother are the usual adults picked on in other quotes) would probably be able to construct from simple language. The average eight year old would, quite rightly, take great exception at this, but the definition of a moron is a adult person (over twenty-one) with the mental capacity of a child aged between eight and twelve. (It is a very old and probably very inaccurate, definition).

Where am I going with this? I have been reflecting on what was said to me by a hockey coach as we stood watching the game between Surbiton HC and Wimbledon HC last Sunday – and thinking about explanation and understanding. I repeatedly asked him why certain incidents played out in front of us were not penalised as obstruction. His ‘explanation’ was that this was the way the Rule is interpreted. When I asked him to explain the interpretation, he could not. He admitted that it was contrary to what was given in the Rule and not how the Rule used to be applied – although he agreed that there is no reasonable explanation for any change to the interpretation of obstruction in the last twenty-five years – “but that (what we were seeing) is just how it is.

(in fact the ‘new interpretation’ of the Obstruction Rule written into the back of the rule-book under Rule Interpretations, post 1992 was almost entirely deleted in 2004. All that remains of it in the current Explanation of Rule 9.12 is the incomplete stand alone statement that a stationary receiver of the ball may be facing in any direction (why not?). Everything else in the interpretation was already in the Rule (or other Rules) prior to 1992 or could be deduced or inferred from them – there was no change to the Obstruction Rule beyond the very specific leeway given to a receiver of the ball while receiving and controlling it (in other words the “new interpretation” introduced in 1992, was an exception to the Rule, not a change to the interpretation of what was (and is) obstructive play by, for example, a player in possession of the ball – that did not change in 1992 (was not changed at that time by the FIH Hockey Rules Board) and has not been changed since, either by the Rules Board or by the (renamed) FIH Rules Committee. We seem now however to be floundering along on what officials can remember of the deleted interpretation, because they will not let go of it, despite the fact that it is deleted and was anyway very poorly written by someone who obviously did not understand the game. This deleted interpretation, having demanded conditions for a tackle attempt that were impossible to comply with, then concluded in contradiction :- ” However, umpires should note certain forms of obstruction which are often incorrectly overlooked. In particular, preventing a legitimate tackle (my bold) by intentionally (introducing for the first time intention to obstruct, which is not in the Rule) shielding the ball with the body or leg is obstruction.
Stick obstruction and interference is prohibited; no player may strike at or interfere with an opponent’s stick. The player with the ball may not use the stick to shield or protect the ball from a legitimate tackle.

preventing a legitimate tackle  by shielding the ball with the stick, body or leg is obstruction.

In view of that, a child seeing current hockey as it is played and officiated, would ask “Why is thathow it is“?” and expect that those officiating, coaching or playing the game to be able to explain (and properly justify) what is now going on – but they cannot or will not do so – we get a stonewalling “That is the interpretation.”.

I was not asking for an explanation of the behaviour of protons or electrons, for which the scientific ‘explanation’ seems to be “that is just how it is” (that is physical behaviour associated with particle theory combined with conflicting behaviour associated with wave theory, which seems to be illogical, and is thus far unexplained), but I was asking for a justification for players using obstructive tactics (attempting to shield the ball past opponents) and umpires  responding to these obstruction offences in a way that is directly opposite to the way a reasonable reading of the wording of the Rule , using common understanding of the simple language used in the Rule, would lead any rational person to expect the game to be played and the Obstruction Rule applied.

Maybe the language isn’t as simple as it needs to be, or more words are needed: after all “alternatively” isn’t a complex concept, but clearly additional words (about the hands) would give clarity to the over-simplified instructions concerning the bully signal – I don’t think that ‘obstruction’ or ‘prevention’ are any more complicated as concepts than ‘alternately’. That said simplification is not an easy undertaking – it is surprising how much is assumed to be well known by the person an action is being explained to.

Redumpire and Cardhappy could (and should) have recognised that without there being  indication of how the hands were being referred to, there is  ambiguity in the use of the word “alternately”, but that would have deprived them of the opportunity of a ‘put down’.  The subject isn’t important enough to justify the unthinking, unreasonable and rude responses and the bad feeling generated by them. The question from Cris Maloney might be considered trivial but it was not unreasonable to ask it and also to expect a polite and considered reply. According to the novelist and satirist Swift, the inhabitants of Lilliput and Blefuscu went to war over the importance of which end of a boiled egg to open – the responses given are as inexplicable. The same kind of responses are made (or refused) to questions about the dangerous shot at the goal, the penalising of ball-body contact, and the interpretation of “attempting”.

All Fools Day was the following day but they got an early start.

I like Cris Maloney’s response, a few days later, which mentions the ‘broken windmill’ signal now given to indicate a 23m free ball to the attacking team when the ball goes out of play over the base-line off a defender’s stick. Why can’t the powers that be get it into their heads that they themselves have deleted what used to be called a long corner and more recently (a massively important change when it was made !!?? ) a corner, and replaced it with a restart on the 23m line. There is no good reason why the signal should not be the umpire’s right hand pointed with extended arm directly towards/over the base-line (some umpires are already using this signal) There is no need to point to the corner of the pitch, in fact to do so is ridiculous – to be required to do so, absurd.

There is now no such thing as a ‘corner’, but, going back to the match I was watching, ball shielding, with stick or body, to delay or prevent an opponent, who is intent on playing at the ball, directly doing so, when they would otherwise be immediately able to do so, is (still) usually an offence called obstruction – in only two situations should an exception to this Rule be made.

Ask any umpire what these two situations are  – and he or she is likely to be dumbfounded by the question, but they still won’t penalise what is obstruction when they see it. Many of them are unable to recognise obstructive situations – having been told and having accepted that they do not exist or, as one FHF moderator would have it,  “It (obstruction) occurs once, if at all, in about three hundred matches“. I’d say that those figures would be about right if the topic was intentional use of the body to stop or deflect the ball.