Sorry, got carried away with my Family Guy reference. But yes, I’m grumpy. There’s a lot of distressing tales emerging on the umpiring front, and it’s time to vent.
England Hockey Gives No Quarter With Quarters
One of the most contentious changes the FIH is trying to push through in the new 2019 Rules of Hockey is the “standardisation” of hockey matches everywhere to 4 x 15 min quarters.
Back in my super-entertaining and far-too-thorough Deconstruction article, I figured the worst part of this change wasn’t necessarily the time format but the requirement for umpires to stop and restart their watches at every penalty corner. In practice, this has the potential to “put time back on the clock” taking a match close to the 75:00 run time of former formats, but I haven't seen a particularly convincing statistical argument given the variability of the number of penalty corners you'll see in games.
Moreover, the rumblings from grassroots hockey have done nothing but grow in volume as leagues start examining the practicalities of trying to accommodate this latest demand to keep up with the international Joneses. Where pitch time is precious, limited by residential lighting codes and pressured by high demand, fixtures secretaries are pulling out their hair. Players are dismayed at a reduction in live playing time in the face of ever-increasing fees. But don't forget the umpires: how are we possibly going to be accurate and therefore fair when timing matches with so many opportunities to miss those little buttons?
In theory, National Associations are meant to apply to the FIH for permission to vary any of the Rules of Hockey to be followed in their jurisdictions. In practice, changing the time of matches has been regarded as one of those more technical of rules and associations have done their own thing (my local league plays 30′ halves and I'm sure we have no formal permission to do so COME AT ME BRO). What makes it more complicated is also ignoring the tie stoppage rule in 13.3(a). Despite that extra wrinkle, I'm hearing a lot of non-standard hybrid solutions being rolled out or, more simply, the status quo will be maintained.
England Hockey took it one step further recently by “challenging the attempt” of the FIH to change match timing, reportedly “angered by the lack of consultation about this fundamental change.”
As far as attempts go, one could argue it's a pretty high-percentage play by the FIH, but at the same time, I can't recall a rule change that a significant NA has spoken out against so forcefully in the public sphere, whether that objection was meant to be aired in public or not.
Frankly, I love this strong move by EH. If NAs can't hold the Rules Committee to
I'll be tuned in for further developments when not paying attention to the 2 x 30′ halve matches at my local ground.
Can You Hear Me Now? How About Now?
Technology problems are still plaguing the ProLeague matches and directly impacting the ability of the umpires to get the job done with video review. A few stadiums now have lacked consistently-functioning audio connections from the pitch umpires up to the video booth, leading to long delays and increased confusion for all the teams.
The umpires are soldiering on and doing their best not to let the delays and unwanted extra face-time on camera ruffle them, but what is clear is that if both pitch umpires are having problems hearing and/or being heard by the video umpire, there’s no backup plan in place to deal with this failure. (I suggest a call over WhatsApp.)
Even if the third team can all communicate amongst themselves, it's even more likely that no audio is coming through on the produced stream at all. Spectators in the stands and viewers at home are left with no idea what the players have asked, and what the explanation of the video umpire is after they've completed their review.
This opacity further exacerbates the lamentable lack of understanding some commentators have about which element of
The FIH needs to get this problem fixed, stat.
And Not By Removing Video Referral Altogether
In utterly shocking news this week, the hockey family learned from the Malaysian Hockey Confederation that the FIH has announced the removal of video referral from the upcoming Hockey Series Finals, from which contenders for Olympic Qualification are selected. This affects a full six crucial tournaments in Hiroshima, Le Touquet and Valencia for the women, and Kuala Lumpur, Bhubaneswar and Banbridge for the men. The rationale, according to MHC, is that not all six hosts have the technology in place.
Underlying this seemingly pragmatic rationale is, of course, money.
Every one of these hosts had to submit bid packages that included the requirement they would be able to meet standards for video referral. The venues and dates for the HSFs were set in October last year, with some hosts and sites clearly being rookies on the world-level tournament scene. This makes total sense, as this reflects not only the reality of the teams trying to climb onto a higher stage in the hockey world but also the stated mission of the FIH to “grow the game.”
That means when issues are identified with the ability of hosts to meet the standards both parties have committed to in a hosting agreement, it’s incumbent on the FIH to provide the resources—financial and otherwise—to help them get there. However, you can’t grow the game when all the financial and personnel resources are being funnelled to a “professional” global competition that lacks any form of sponsorship while 17 teams are crisscrossing the world to play one or two games in a single location. So yes, this is a financial decision.
The umpires who have been preparing to serve at these events were as shocked as anyone to see the news online as nothing had been communicated to them in advance, and you can bet they've all been working hard on their preparation for video referral duties. Regardless, they're all going to keep their heads down just as they always have. But like England Hockey above, I applaud MHC in speaking out publicly and letting the hockey world know about this terrible decision.
No, Penalty Corners Aren't Optional
Staying with our good friends in Malaysia, over the past week the Indian team was visiting Kuala Lumpur to play a 5-game friendly series. After the Eves/Tigers (whoever you believe) won two and drew another two with the Malaysians, affairs were again tight in the closing phase of Game 5. The Eves were defending a one-goal advantage in the dying seconds when a crash ball (you’re welcome, The Reverse Stick) was mishandled by a defender inside the circle off her foot, leading the umpire to call a penalty corner after the hooter sounded.
Footage from AstroArena (these guys are killing it with viral hits right now) shows a small part of the sideline action where India's Sjoerd Marijne takes in the explanation of Technical Officer that although the whistle blew after the final hooter, the foul occurred before, so the penalty corner continues the game. After hearing this, Marijne swears on camera, and according to sideline reports, continued to hurl abuse at both the T.O. and, more shockingly, at Malaysia's head coach Dhaarmaraj. Marijne then refused to allow his players to defend the penalty corner, who stood in their defending circle looking as though they wished a pit would open up and transport them out from between this rock and hard place their coach had placed them in.
In a display of entirely unwarranted grace, Raj instructed his team to shake hands with their recalcitrant opponents and walk off the pitch with them, leaving the match unfinished. A confusing move, unless you take into account
Now, you're not reading this column because you're a rules neophyte. Unlike the head coach of
The big question now is what the FIH is going to do with Marijne. Since this episode was outside the parameters of a tournament and thus escapes the provisions on match abandonment found in the General Tournament Regulations, they're going to have to be creative in dealing with yet another ugly outburst from India.
Is something grinding your gears? Hit me up at @FHumpires wherever fine social media is sold and share your thoughts. As for me, I promise the next HWN edition will consist solely of sunshine and rainbows.
(This article appeared in the Hockey World News Edition 10, April 2019)