During the World League Australia v Great Britain match at the beginning of December 2015 there were three penalty corners awarded to the Australian team that require closer examination. I’ll begin with the second of them because it was the only one that involved that form of cheating known, very forgivingly, as “finding a foot”, previously known as a forcing offence.
I need to start the examination by a look at the, now deleted as a separate offence, action of forcing the ball into contact with the body (usually the foot or leg) of an opponent.
In the Introduction to the 2011-13 Rules of Hockey under Rules Changes, the deletion of the offence of forcing was ‘explained’ as follows:-
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” (previously Rule 9.15) is deleted because any action of this sort can be dealt with under other Rules:…
That does not say that “Playing the ball clearly and intentionally into any part of an opponent’s body may be penalised as an attempt to manufacture an offence” is no longer an offence, but that where another Rule is breached by such an action (and it is stated that any such action is covered by other Rules) what was a forcing offence will be “dealt with “ under those other Rules.
Unfortunately this possibly well intentioned reasoning is flawed; it demonstrates an ignorance of the Rules of Hockey (or is an outright lie) and also an ignorance of human nature (or an unsupportable faith in it), because not all forcing actions can be “dealt with” by other Rules and because we immediately had an ‘interpretation’ made up that declared that “dealt with” did not mean “penalise”. The justification for this ‘interpretation’ was that if the FIH RC meant “penalised” they would have written “penalised”. It turned out that this interpretation of “dealt with” meant ‘ignore’ – but no-one promoting this deviant interpretation ever did explain what “can be dealt with” does mean if it does not mean ‘can be penalised’.
There are only three legitimate ways of dealing with an offence under the Rules of Hockey, the first is – if possible – to allow advantage to the team offended against, the second is to allow play to continue if opponents have not been disadvantaged by an offence (neither of which are often readily applied in a forcing offence situation) and the third is to penalise the offence.
Okay, the ball is played into an opponent – “clearly and intentionally” are now gone, possibly one reason or even the real reason for the change. What other offence might such an action be? There is only one possibility, dangerous play, specifically a breach of Rule 9.8. i.e. causing legitimate evasive action or a breach of Rule 9.9:-
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.
The UMB is not the Rules of Hockey but if we accept from it the advice that:- “Low balls over defenders sticks in a controlled manner that hit half shin pad are not dangerous” then, putting that advice together with the Rule, any ball played towards an opponent within 5m, at above half-shin pad heigh, must be considered to be dangerous play (and intent is irrelevant).
I didn’t write these Rules, I am quoting them while trying to fill in the gaps with reasonable deductions based on what is given. The “within 5m and at or above knee height” criteria, taken from the height limitation on the first hit shot made during a penalty corner, cannot displace the explanation of application given in Rule 9.9. which relates to all phases of play.
Regrettably this change only simplified the Rules by creating an absurd unfairness, as what had been forcing offences continued to be simply ignored. They were previously ignored with the pretense that “clearly and intentionally” was always too difficult to see or be certain about – umpires then treating all ball-body contact as an offence by the player hit with the ball (there apparently is no difficulty in assuming either intent or advantage gained by a player hit with the ball) .
The other change made at the same time in the 2011-13 Rules of Hockey was the prohibition of playing the ball directly into the circle from a free awarded in the opponent’s 23m area – which could win a prize for the introduction of unnecessary complications – so not two changes that can be considered to be a success in the process of simplification without altering the fundamental characteristics of the game.
The following clip is of what is very clearly a forcing of a ball-leg contact. Participants seem oblivious to the fact that such forcing is an offence but now ‘dealt with’ under the dangerous play Rules – if it is in fact dangerous play i.e. a breach of the conditions of either Rule 9.8. or 9.9.
The ball is not raised very much so may have been beneath the ‘non-Rule’ level of half shin pad, in which case (if the advice from the UMB is accepted) there is no Rule that ‘deals’ with this sort of deliberate forcing, despite what the FIH RC have declared to the contrary: an uncomfortable conflict.
The second incident.
I am not sure if the umpire penalised for the attempt at a tackle which involved physical contact or for a ball-body contact offence. If the penalty corner was awarded for the tackle attempt then the defender got off lightly, as that action could and probably should have been penalised with a penalty stroke (as should the much more blatant and forceful example later in the video clip). This, from the 2015 Rules of Hockey, under Applying the Rules in the Introduction :-
The FIH Rules Committee continues to be concerned that some Rules are not applied consistently.
Rule 9.12: obstruction. Umpires should penalise shielding the ball with the stick more strictly. They should also look out for a tackling
player who by pushing or leaning on an opponent causes them to lose possession of the ball.
has not been acted upon as much as it should have been.
There is obviously no positioning by the defender with intention to use the foot to stop the ball and I can’t see any gaining of advantage (this must be a subjective judgement). The two players involved end up in a tussle for the ball at the top of the circle; if the ball had missed the defender’s foot there would probably have been a tussel for the ball between two other opposing players – no difference – and play could and should have been allowed to continue.
The third incident.
This decision is bizarre and wrong. Having allowed play to continue because the ball had fallen to the advantage of the AUS team, the umpire seems to have awarded them a penalty corner simply because they did not manage to use their advantage to create a shooting opportunity. There was no offence by the GB player, there is clearly no intent and he can hardly be said to have gained an advantage – and therefore committed an offence – if the opposing team had advantage and the umpire allowed play to continue because of it. This kind of decision making is called ‘brain fade’. Of course the umpire, like many others, possibly didn’t consider the criterion for offence and make a subjective decision based on them, he simply followed the false objective mantra, “A ball-foot contact is an offence”.
But we also have this from the Applying the Rules , Advantage, in the section of the rulebook entitled Umpiring.
2.2.d having decided to play advantage, a second opportunity must not be given by reverting to the original penalty.
No penalty is applicable anyway when advantage is applied following a ball-body contact by opponents because, barring intent, if the opponents have not gained advantage from the contact there is no offence. It is not possible for both teams to have advantage following a ball-body contact by a single player.
Rule 9.11. 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.
That explanation of the application of the Rule might be improved by removing the word “always” or by starting with It is seldom an offence….
But the Rule proper:- 9.11 Field players must not stop, kick, propel, pick up, throw or carry the ball with any part of their body
would be much improved by simply reinserting the word “intentionally”:-
9.11 Field players must not intentionally stop, kick, propel, pick up, throw or carry the ball with any part of their body
The above explanation of application would then be unnecessary and the Rule clear, but that (horror of horrors) would mean rewriting the Rule in the way that it was previously written (up until 2004) and then requiring umpires to apply it as it as written i.e.not penalising unless there was certainty about intent, in the same way as they insisted on doing when the forcing of contact was penalised only if clearly intentional (but in the case of forcing not even then).