Sunday, June 26, 2022

Simon Orchard: It’s time hockey umpires learnt the game

“The trouble with referees is that they know the rules, they just don’t know the game”, the great Bill Shankly once said. I have to say I agree with the former Scottish footballer and ex-Liverpool manager wholeheartedly.

Many top whistle-blowers have a general understanding of the rules of hockey. However, a large number of them severely lack the ability to consistently apply, enforce or define them in the pressure-cooker environment that can be elite sport.

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39 COMMENTS

  1. Utter clickbait. Is this the best you can do? And umpires not accountable? Not reviewed? What bubble are you living in? And that Shankly quote? Here’s one for you…many hockey players know the game but don’t know the rules.

  2. Simon,
    I agree with you on this….however, I admit that when I have a whistle in my hand, I feel I have to stand up to players (not violently or obnoxiously), otherwise they will walk all over you.
    I personally like an umpire that can keep hold of a game because as a player if he hasn’t got the game I take advantage…….
    Not all games are videoed. I am level 1 qualified and I know that below our 3rd team(Burton hockey club(East Midlands Prem))is OK for me. I know that any higher I am out of my depth…
    Just remember……everyone makes mistakes…..players aren’t consistent…..so to call an umpire for not being consistent all the time is a bit hypocritical….
    Regards

  3. While I agree that umpires who have previously played the game to a high level have the potential to be great umpires, I disagree with Simon Orchard’s assertion that top players know the Rules well. They don’t; they are generally no more knowledgeable in this area than the average club player and are often not as well informed as a club player. Tactically they are usually more aware of what is going on during a game, but we have only to listen to the commentary given with televised matches by former Olympic level players to be painfully aware that most of them are clueless about the Rules of Hockey. They simply play as their coaches instruct them play irrespective of what the Rules are and this practice becomes their ‘Rules’. I offer as examples from Britain Sean Kerly, Simon Mason and Melanie Clewlow : there is ample video evidence available.

  4. Umpires at all levels need coaching and assessing. often the coaches and assessors below national league are not up to the task. it is difficult to have a civilised conversation with some coaches and players as they are not willing to listen. Umpires blow what they see which may be different to that of the player.

    At some levels players can be intimidating sandpit people off.

    there are good and bad umpires and as a L1 i try to interpret the rules in light of the game, not always easy. Consistency can be an issue, but we are not robots or computers. I am happy to have a few words with a player or captain if there is a point to address.

  5. There is no way of truly keeping umpires in check. You can complain to the league or the umpires association for your local area however it doesn’t stop it happening every season because umpires are like gold dust. In my league, there is one umpire that has claimed to have retired for the last 5 years, but keeps coming back and actively helps his own team to win matches. His own team know he does it, but he is their only qualified umpire in the club due to it being a small club. The worst part of it, is during one particular game, he was using his influence to overturn a trainee umpires decisions, which were spot on. The trainee was doing brilliantly, he understood the rules and their application, he communicated well with the players, but this “experienced” umpire was over ruling his decisions to actively help his team win. He was very confrontational from the outset of the match with any of our teams questioning the decision or even trying to talk to him. He turned the game from a friendly affair to a highly emotional and unpleasant match by giving decisions that he was in no position to give and failing to give the easiest of decisions. The next week though, we had two of the best umpires I’ve ever be officiated by. One big problem I’ve witnessed over the years is trainee umpires or newly qualified umpires get very little support and get deterred by players not being very accommodating of their mistakes. Alternatively to that, you find there are some players which sense that their own umpire is “weak” and will prey on that by attempting to intimidate them in a way that they know intimidates them, which in turn causes the umpire to be less willing to give offences against their team. I agree with the article about umpires bringing emotion and ego into their game. There is once umpire that has hated me for as long as I’ve played hockey and I’ve been umpired by him when playing for 3 different clubs at 5 different levels. Each time he has purposely found an excuse to give a foul against me or give every 50/50 decision I was involved in, against me. Now as a player, it ruins the enjoyment of the game when umpires take it upon themselves to put you in your place as a player, I much prefer to banter back and fourth with an umpire during a match as it keeps things calm meaning neither of us will make a rash decision born from the emotion of the game. I agree that there is little accountability for umpires, but this is not necessarily anyone’s fault, but a lack of resources by the hockey associations to thoroughly investigate reports of poor umpires. Additionally there is a lack of resource available to properly govern existing umpires. Once an umpire passes one exam and a few assessments, they are left to their own devices, no governance at all. I’ve been qualified for 10 years now and gone through numerous rule changes. As an umpire and as a player, its very difficult to adjust to the new rules and interpretations of the new rules when they are not thoroughly explained. I’ve only ever seen one example of actively assisting with explaining and demonstrating the application of the rules. The rest of the time, there is very little publication of how the rules should be interpreted, which leaves players and umpires to fend for themselves and ultimately, doesn’t unify interpretations between umpires leading to frustrating inconsistencies. This leads me onto my final point, bad umpires hide behind their own “interpretations” of the rules. For example, the recent changing in aerial balls has increased the skill level of games, yet some umpires still forget the rules about allowing 5m for a player to take the ball under control and who’s right it is to receive the ball, and who must back away, forgetting that it is whoever is in the landing area first. If there is no obvious answer to who was there first, the umpires tend to give it in the defenses favor. This wouldn’t be a problem, if they were to apply the rule properly by ensuring the resulting free hit is taken from the location of where the danger occurred, which is where the ball was first lifted from. Another incident which occurs regularly is players obstructing the ball and umpires massively interpret what is and isn’t obstruction differently, which then leads to most referring to the obstruction rule in football. When players actively place their body between an opposition player and the ball without attempting to play it is deemed in the rules to be obstructing or alternatively players see this happening and immediately stop attempting to play for the ball and start appealing to the umpire. Both interpretations then lead to players winning a foul for trying to run through a static defender. The new rule change regarding the taking of free hits inside the final 23m area and the position that defenders are allowed to stand in is highly confusing to most players and umpires who haven’t had access to a proper tutorial on how this rule should be interpreted. In short, we need more easily accessible guides to interpretations of the rules and to think about ensuring that umpires are monitored to ensure that standards stay high and that umpires that don’t meet standards are educated. Some associations would argue that this is unrealistic and that they don’t have the resources to carry out the task. This is a poor excuse as, with the correct structure, the information can be properly cascaded down and the information spread to all clubs and all levels via their hockey association. This recently change of rules is the first time I’ve witnessed my hockey association actively attempting to assist with the new rules changes, however due to lack of publication of it, I was unable to attend the session. Had a strong structure been in place, the opportunity would’ve at least been offered to me and my fellow umpires. There are of course exceptions where there are umpires who are very good and control a match appropriately, but also have the confidence to make a decision which could prove “controversial” to one team and have the communication skills to diffuse player protests and keep the match being played in a friendly and enjoyable atmosphere. As players we give poor umpires a hard time and if we recognise our umpire is being “bias” towards us (intentionally or unintentionally), most players’ morals go out the window and most simply allow it to happen instead of publicly owning up to fouls we know we’ve committed and that the umpire as missed or chosen to ignore. The buck starts with players’ attitudes towards umpires, but equally important, umpires’ attitudes they bring to the game.

  6. Dear Simon Orchard,

    All my life, I have looked up to players who have succeeded in playing at an international level. I am now 20 years old and still watch hockey with the same enthusiasm as when I was a small kid on the sideline cheering on my parents, I love hockey and I live for it. I’m never going to be an international player but God I’ll pour my heart and soul into whatever game I play and for me, this is how I also approach every match I umpire. I dream of one day reaching international status as an umpire and know dozens of others who feel the same. I have been lucky enough to umpire some U16 international fixtures and this has encouraged me to pursue my dreams more.

    I respect that you may have had some or even many bad experiences with umpires, however it is important for you to know that not just anybody can step onto a pitch with a whistle. In particular, at the esteemed international level which you have played at, umpires have gone through years and years of training, assessments, setbacks, difficult decisions, and bloody hard work to get there, much like yourself! I’m not sure about in Australia but in England, there are many many umpires, in particular young ones, working their way through the various levels – we work hard, we work alongside the players in order to be able to empathise better, we have to be physically and mentally tough too. In fact, I would say umpires have to be mentally tougher to be able to deal with blasé comments that they’re supposed to take with ‘a pinch of salt’.

    Without meaning to sound patronising, perhaps you should take the time to look at the processes umpires must go through? If you would be willing to, I’m sure there are plenty of umpires who would be happy to talk things through with you. We’re not the bad guys, umpires are the third team on a hockey pitch (along with the TOs), not out to get you but to keep it a safe environment where the rules are enforced correctly and appropriately. Officials have an immense amount of respect for players, this isn’t to say that we don’t make mistakes or we don’t have bad days but saying ‘no umpire no game’ isn’t a cop out, it’s just a way of reminding people that they need us. A lot of people don’t actually recognise how challenging umpiring can be until they blow a whistle themselves.

    Yes I agree with you, communication is absolutely key, not everyone enforces the rules correctly, yes sometimes we don’t communicate as well, but a lot of the points you make in this article lack evidence and seem narrow minded because you’re not taking into account other perspectives. Umpires certainly don’t want the ‘us and them’ label and articles like this just create more tension.

    I respect you as an athlete so would ask simply that you can manage the same for the umpires whom you encounter, who have worked just as hard to get where they are.

    Best wishes,

    Harriet Hanwell
    Level 1 National Young Umpires Promising List Umpire based in the UK

  7. Well written piece, very accurate in analysis and description. I gave up umpiring years ago when the association demanded of me what I knew was wrong for officiating. And when players treat umpires like dirt, on & off the field, at the lower league levels, then it’s pressure from both sides that eliminates all pleasure of being involved in a sport. I always argued that umpires needs players in order to umpire, but players could (at a push) manage without umpires!

  8. Overall very well said. For me, the most important thing is the communication – as a player you can handle a rubbish call if the umpire has the capacity to tell you what they saw and how this justifies their call… if they’re wrong from what they saw you just have to cop it

    But this is where I think we owe a bit more value to the role of players – communication goes both ways. Players need to give an umpire the opportunity to communicate which actually supports the umpire to be less emotional and more reasoned in their decision making.

    From my experience there is a huge issue around how to mentor and develop good umpires and I think the issues you point out are good starting points for all umpires to consider – if you’re going to blow a whistle, you should want to put your best foot forward… may even be able to enjoy it occasionally if you are able to put the ego and emotions aside and actually share in the players’ enjoyment of the game.

  9. Well written. O guess what you got to consider is standing over the fence or being a player the only person yum point your finger is the man with the whistle. Well I heeds that’s true if he does not get it right all the time no room for error but also what amazes me is that very few who think they know the game want to blow the whistle. Call it lack of confidence or no balls to stand out there in the middle. CASE definitely all eyes are on you all the time.
    So the next time some thinks of critiquing n umpire think twice and in fact get put there and the umpire pass me the whistle I ll blow and shows you’re class.
    Was you sincerely my friend. Good luck.

  10. Wow mate. No wonder refs have it in for you with that kind of attitude. Its not all about you! Just like players, some refs and great, others not so great. Deal with it. Its part of the game.

  11. They r a joke on the gold coast.ego mate simon u should c this family on the gold coast that umpire .I have played for over 30 years and these guys have kicked me out of the comp for no other reason that they don’t like me.

  12. I agree with most points Simon has raised ,I would also add to hockey umpires selectors ,select on merit not on the old pals act ,I have seen umpires on our domestic NATIONAL LEAGUE ,who should not be there .

  13. Umpires as I understand pay for themselves to a large degree to get to each level especially the higher you go so if you can’t afford this then you will lose out on many ex players. Hockey is not at the professional level of football referees. I do agree that if you have played the game you understand how players feel and understand the flow of the game better. Maybe if you had that financial support for such as players do now this would help

  14. “severely distracted ….my hockey career”. I think the issue lies with you, not the umpires; there’s enough material in there for a psychologists conference.
    Further than that, can’t argue with an idiot, they just bring you down to their level and beat you with their experience

  15. Umpires do have review meetings and are accountable for their decisions so don’t write something you obviously aren’t educated on.
    And walk your talk – high level players make the best umpires – so when will I see you with a whistle in your hand at a high level???

  16. Ask a player to umpire and the majority of the time the standard answer is “I couldn’t do it I don’t know the rules well enough!”

    Top level players will never give up playing to become umpires unless injury curtails their playing career so that is not a discussion that would even get off the ground….

    Seems there needs to be give and take from both sides rather than blame the umpires all the time

  17. So why do top international or national players not become umpires?

    I believe there are some truths in some of Simons comments. Umpires and referees should all be ‘students of the game’. And that is not just about knowing the players & the rules it is also about apply those rules and understanding how the game is played .

    It almost sound like Simon is saying you have to be or been a top flight player to be a good umpire. That I do not agree with.

  18. I wonder how much investment $$$ was put in to Simon’s international career? Because I’m pretty sure its more than the combined investment of the entire FIH umpires panel

  19. What a load of rubbish from someone who ought to know better.

    In the words of Brian Clough, “I think what you do to referees is nothing short of criminal; the standard you feel should be coming from referees at the moment is absolutely incredible.

    The referee has to make a decision in five seconds, two seconds or one second, in the heat of the moment with twenty two players bellowing at him, and you don’t make that point strongly enough (on MOTD). It should be over-emphasised how hard it is to referee a match.”

  20. Too true at all levels of the game. I have been physically assaulted by an umpire who when called on sent me off (at a penalty corner (I’m the keeper)) I will accept I had challenged his decision but think being shoved by the umpire in the chest is a little out of line. Rather ruined my faith in those that hold the whistle if I had done that to a player I’d have had a red and a ban and deserved it !

  21. It proves that Simon should take a look behind the scenes of what umpiring now entails. Yes, there are always those individuals who have never played the game and who have little empathy with the players or those over officious officials that love the sound of their own whistle let alone want to be the centre of attention. But don’t all sports get those individuals within the teams as well! Things have changed and will continue to change but articles like this don’t help. Why? Because those umpires who care, want to get better, live and breathe hockey, are there for the players and want to get better are tarnished with the same brush as Simon Orchard’s opinion and leave the sport due to the ignorance of some players and coaches who think the same as this article and think it’s fair game to have a go at the umpires.
    There are many of us who umpire week in week out in all weathers because we know we can make a difference on a Saturday or Sunday. There are also those that climb the umpiring ladder and umpire international matches who still have the same drive to deliver a perfect game for the players as I am and always have been. There are also many many changes and challenges within the game that people should know what umpires do as a result.
    1) performance umpiring has changed and is changing continually for the better just the same way playing has. Yes, we use video analysis from the game to watch what can be learnt; what could be done better and how we can improve. Yes, we have feedback and reviews with umpire-coaches and or umpire managers after games; yes we use Bluetooth radio headsets to try to get the best decision in a consistent way and; we have fitness testing and fitness goals that match the modern game. All this is done from beginning to end in our own time; with not very much support; no financial incentives or payment and still with criticism from players like yourself. Why? Because just like you were love the game!
    You will always get those individuals who aren’t really there for the right reasons but when you get to the top of any job or role you still want to do your best even when the odds are stacked unfairly against you. For example, when a top international side get a certain amount of funding and then when asked by their nations umpire for a little support from maybe some nutritional advice; strength and conditioning advice and or some physio advice so that they could get better and improve in-line with the team, what do you think happened? Yes, that’s right they said a big “NO”!
    So if you think umpires don’t want to improve or advance with the sport think again! Most who want it will train just as hard; watch and analysis endless video of themselves and others to see want needs to be improved upon and will do what is needed to get the best out of the players and to be fair to both teams. So next time you miss an open goal maybe I will be the one thinking, “it would’ve been easier to score than to miss that one” or “that’s a shocker of a miss” maybe you’ll think “thanks ump for the advantage and yeah how could I have missed that. With that advantage the goal should’ve just been the icing on the cake so I’ll buy you a orange juice at the bar!”

  22. Well done and about time someone of note spoke up about umpires. I am a Level 4 coach and I am a member of the local umpires’ association and umpire also, and I have been trying to help improve umpires but am met with arrogance and a stone wall to accept help to improve. If only players, coaches and umpire would get together and come to some common ground. If we expect players to train then why not umpires? It can only be good for the game. I know of a local level 1 umpire’s course where they were told not to speak to players, and yet, as we all know the best umpires talk to players with respect and try to be helpful on the field. The quality of help for umpires from national associations is poor as the video material is from the back row of the stands. What is needed is for players and umpires to get together to put together material that is from the relevant viewpoint.

  23. Whilst I hear some of the points Simon Orchard makes in his article, I reply thus:
    Accountability
    In my career as a regional and NPUA umpire, I was rarely not at a match in which I was either coached or assessed. Debriefs were commonplace, and were lengthy and detailed.
    There is a lack of video to watch for controversial decisions, because so few day to day matches are videoed. This tool is indeed useful and should be available higher up the scale, and has been used at umpire conferences
    I also remember the days when the captains were invited to join the debriefs. Those were fun times, as it was an opportunity to see how many ways we could criticise the umpire by telling them what they did ‘wrong’. It was a good idea in principal, as player feedback could be useful, but it was not managed well and may have led to crisis in confidence.
    Some players (and coaches) can be pretty intimidating, and use their skill and knowledge to this gain.
    Umpire development also needs a wealth of umpire coaches to attend matches, which can be a struggle, as it’s hard enough to get umpires, let alone coaches.
    So, please Simon, be assured, we do take umpiring seriously
    Communication
    I agree umpires should be approachable and build rapport with the players (I find a smile goes a long way), so let’s just say that respect goes both ways. Some players behaviour can be shocking, and umpires do have to maintain control of the game. I’ve always seen my role as assisting the game, keeping the flow and blowing to the best of my ability, however, you do need to step in if a player or the game gets out of hand. If an umpire is being firm, perhaps there is good reason.
    Sometimes…the players need to be nicer to the umpires. In all of my career, I don’t think I had a ‘well done’ from a player. Plenty of thank yous of course, which is nice and appreciated. It just would be nice to hear a player say, ‘well done ump, you had a great game’
    Was I really that shocking?
    Remove the Emotion
    Not sure how to respond, except to say opinions will differ. I could retaliate by saying some players really push the boundaries with umpires, but that would sound defensive. I don’t believe you need to be a top flight player to be a top flight umpire. I umpired to a higher level than I played, and did ok. I also don’t believe you need to be a top flight player or umpire to be a top flight coach. I do believe you need lots of support and coaching as you progress, be it decision making, rapport or manner you show.
    Yes umpires need to keep emotions in check, but it ain’t always easy I can tell you.
    Perhaps if players stop blaming umpires for a bad game of hockey, and we all agree to nice to each other, it would make a much happier hockey place

    Elaine Spear
    Retired NPUA umpire

  24. Accountability is key as is debriefing. Do the elite athletes debrief around their relationships with the umpire? Or is this the first time it has happened?

    You have to remember that the job of an umpire is primarily about safety and making sure that they keep the safety of the players at the front of their mind. Not the enjoyment level, or whether someone, who’s adrenalin is running at sky high levels thinks you may have made a tiny mistake that has suddenly become the end of the world.

    nice article though, and I agree with the premise. Generate a higher interest in umpiring from all levels so the elite players can then officiate at the high levels. and make sure there is constant conversation about performance and delivery of the rules. from both sides.

  25. Mr. Orchard makes some valid points with regard to certain aspects of umpiring. Unfortunately he shows a fundamental lack of understanding as to what umpiring exactly is and what is needed to be a good umpire.

    Some quick remarks with regard to the three points he made:

    1. Lack of accountability.
    Accountability to whom? To the players? And if so do they get to then overrule the umpires if they disagree? By qualified majority?
    The concept of accountability does not really apply to umpires in the usual sense. Decisions are not retrospectively overruled(barring some extreme exceptions). Umpires need to be graded and coached. But the purpose is not really accountability, it’s trying to improve the umpire. The only accountability with regards to the umpires is with regards to the means you have in enforcing a certain base level of quality; demotion or forced retirement. Mind you, you are dealing with volunteers so raising the bar too high will leave you with few umpires.

    2. Poor communication skills.

    To what end? Funny how you don’t mention Rugby where people are simply expected to do as they are told and that’s that.
    I agree umpires should be able to explain there decisions (after the game) and approach the players as equals, but during the game there may simply not be time. Also: what does it matter if you know why an umpire whistled or not? It’s not going to change the decision.
    You write: “In my opinion, you earn respect with how you treat and speak to the players before, during and after the match.” I’m sorry but not only is it a two way street, you’re turning it upside down. You should respect everybody from the start. They don’t have to earn it, they are there because whoever put them there believes they are up to the job. Umpires should endeavour not to lose that respect but that is another point.

    3. Remove the emotion and lose the ego.

    I agree they should do both. The same goes for the players though…

    The notion that high-level players make the best umpires may be true but how many examples can you give? The other presupposition this notion belies is the idea that umpiring is about judging a series of events. It’s not. Umpiring is game management, and on higher level perhaps people management.

    So umpires should do four things: Stay accountable, communicate, keep emotions in check, and learn the game. Accountable to whom? Not the players. Communicate? Sure, if they have time but otherwise after the game, during the game you have to do as you’re told. Keep emotions in check? Of course. Learn the game? Fine, but be prepared to teach them, especially starting umpires. Players tend to be ready with criticism but actually helping an umpire get better is not something they are prepared to help with.

  26. For one year, put the umpires on the players wages and let them go full time and put the players on the umpires wages and let them go part time and we will probably see a difference, i am sure all international players would not have a problem with this!!

  27. I think I understand the point… it’s OK for Simon – because he is so good after all to be an absolute a$$hole toward officials, but if they get it wrong in any way, that’s not OK, in fact it’s a crime against humanity. Some valid points here dressed up in self serving BS – if it weren’t that many other top players are just as bad, I’d say it makes me embarrassed to be an Aussie. Oh… and take a rules test – you might just learn something – if only how much you probably don’t know.

  28. I read some of the comments, some agree and some do not agree. Well umpiring is a hard job you cannot deny that. But you have remember why you took up umpiring first and stay true to that. I have known some or many players who couldn’t achieve TOP level Hockey and turn to umpiring. Not many I know have switch from playing TOP level Hockey and switching to umpiring. Having said that, for Simon’s article, I somewhat agree to his points, someone commented that players do not know the rules, but the know the game. It’s absurd to say that, bcos without knowing the rule you won’t play the game, at high level you won’t be able to make a video referral without knowing the rules.
    Many umpires got upset when I shared the article and some even wrote to challenge me and after few minutes deleted their post n replies!!! Some jokers even rebutted on their FB pages but it dun bother me bcos it is happening from everywhere. Those at the international level or the EHL level might not be the culprit as many eyes are watching them. But we are basically talking about the mid & lower end. In any given Sunday you will see a clown umpiring. For example 2 weeks ago in a school game the umpire insisted that the defender takes the free hit from inside the circle where the infringement took place!!! All of us watching were shocked!!! So can you say the player do not know the rule or the game or blame the umpire????
    Incidences like happens everywhere throughout the globe. Umpires need to be more rational. Let me give you another example. In my country at school level games the players are not allowed to stop or intercept high balls with their sticks, it will be a immediate card. But at the same time, the same age group players are playing in the Junior League and there You can use your high stick. So my point, imagine during the weekend you are allowed to use high stick and during the weekdays when we play the schools tournament YoY are not allowed to use and You receive a green or yellow for that. So the national body got to do something about it and the schools should not be inventing their own rules and umpires got to just chill and not issue a card as it is just natural when it’s not a offence at all.
    I can keep on going, just felt that there needs an improvement!!!

  29. A lot of good points, ie. Communication. But there are many points left out.

    Players surround umpires yelling and cursing if they make an unwanted call (right or wrong), in any other workplace that’s bullying.

    As a state qualified umpire I have been told that I sucked, to go suck, f off, and much worse to my face. I have even had a player threaten to injure me after carding her for a v.dangerous tackle.

    Umpires at lower divisions require more resources than most places are willing or able to give. This was a fact in QLD and was seriously disappointing.

    Do remember one other thing – 90% of umpires are volunteers. We don’t get paid for state or national games, at most we get discounts on hotels or we stay with the team. We don’t have sponsorships. If you think that umpires are crap, blame their hockey Association as they are the only ones able to afford training.

    But I have also seen exactly what you talk about in umpires.
    Yes, communication is the most important thing, even above consistency, but it’s a TWO WAY street.

  30. I think it is good that the initial debate was generated
    I play for one team and umpire for another in the same league and enjoy doing both immensely
    But…. today a complete bell end of an umpire overruled two and carded another of my decisions in my half and I was not a happy bunny
    Next time I am going to resist it and see what happens – imho there are some weird umps out there and some really nice ones too and then there is me and typically players thank me for being uber fair
    To date i have not had any major issues with players because I think they have come to appreciate my play advantage leaning as opposed to being over officious

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