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Why the 2019 hockey rules are umpire friendly

Are you ready for the new season? PIC: SIMON PARKER /ENGLAND HOCKEY

By David Ellcock | Umpire’s view

In my last column I looked at two of the biggest changes to the Rules of Hockey in their 2019 edition. This time I’ll review the other, no less important, changes.

Rule 13.2(f), relating to attacking free hits in the 23m area, has been somewhat simplified. Under the revised rule, if a defender is inside the circle but within 5m of an attacking free hit that is taken as a quick self-pass, they can shadow inside the circle but cannot interfere until the ball has travelled 5m. This is exactly as per the 2017 rules. What has changed is that if the free hit is NOT taken quickly and the defenders have time to move 5m away, they must do so.

What does this mean for umpires? Despite a lot of initial, worried, discussion, it’s actually pretty simple to manage. If you have time to shout “5m please!”, then shout it and be sure to enforce it. Otherwise, let the play continue and penalise any defender who was within 5m of the hit and engages before the ball has travelled 5m.

Next up are two changes relating to defenders wearing face masks at PCs. Under previous versions of the rules, umpires had to be strict about making sure a defender wearing a mask removed it before taking a quick free hit when a PC broke down.

This resulted in frustration for players, as opportunities to break were lost while masks were removed. The guidance to rule 4.2 now states, at paragraph (e), that a defender may wear their face mask for a PC which includes “the immediate taking of a free hit awarded after a penalty corner when passing the ball to another player”. This makes the umpire’s job much simpler and removes something that previously led to unwanted interventions. However, it’s important to note that this only relates to a defender passing the ball from a free hit – they are still not allowed to self-pass while wearing a mask.

The second face mask-related change states (at 12.4) that if the ball hits a mask, or any other piece a defender’s equipment, laying in the circle and that prevents a probable goal, umpires can give a penalty stroke, which is a welcome clarification.

The next change takes us back to the 2009 Rule Book and allows defensive free hits in the circle to be taken anywhere inside the circle OR up to 15m from the end line, in line with where the offence occurred. It must be remembered that this relates to defensive free hits only. 15m re-starts must still be taken in line with where the ball crossed the back-line.

In a change that seems to balance out the rules relating to offences during the taking of a PC, if an attacker breaks into the circle early before an injection, the injector must now go to halfway. This may be tricky to explain at first, but players will soon adapt.

The definition of an “offence” has been clarified and now states that it must be “against an opponent.” This means that umpires should no longer penalise players who lift a ball dangerously towards a team mate. Not that they should have been doing so anyway…

The final change of note is that there is no longer anything to stop a GK propelling the ball with their gauntlets, as the prohibition on their using parts of their body other than their kickers and leg guards to do so has been removed

There are a few other changes around terminology and language, that will be of interest to fellow rules geeks, but will have very little impact on the playing of the game so I’ve left them out of this round up.

In my opinion, the changes to the 2019 Rules – quarters aside – will generally make things easier for umpires and reduce one or two areas of unnecessary conflict with players.

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