RAIPUR (India) - Video umpire Andy Mair on the screen Match for place 7/8 Hockey World League Final men . GERMANY v CANADA © WSP / Koen Suyk
The Video Umpire in hockey has proved a success PIC: World Sport Pics

Video Umpire expert Andy Mair picks the bones out of the Canada v Ireland controversy

The national teams to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have now been decided, and apparently the ‘blame game’ has been all too often directed toward the umpires by those that feel hard done by. Some of these responses are more understandable than others. After all, we are human.

One that I can’t understand is the demand that the FIH should make comment on decisions made by the umpires, under the guise that it will show that lessons have been learned. The FIH does not make comment on umpiring decisions, in the same way that it doesn’t about decisions made by an individual player, chastising them for passing when they did, missing a simple trap or not making the run back to aid defence. These are matters that individual players know within themselves, and are likely to be discussed in coaching environments to aid improvement of team and player. So it is within the umpiring environment, where the umpire manager would discuss such matters with the umpires.

Every umpire at the recent matches was desperate to make the right decisions. There were no conspiracies or continental bias running through the minds of the umpires; stop throwing around those ridiculous accusations. I can already hear the calls of “here we go, an umpire defending umpires”. No, I’m a hockey fan that doesn’t want that type of gutter press criticism creeping in from other sports.

How many of those that have ‘pointed the finger’ at umpires has experienced the kind of situation that they are critiquing? I have more than 100 ‘caps’ as a video umpire on the international stage, along with a large number of Euro Hockey League matches, and am still haunted by decisions that I either know for sure or am not totally convinced that I got right. We know that there are consequences for our decisions and actions. We do not need ‘armchair experts’ to tell us. This is not a video game where we can reset and make changes to attain the next level. This is sport in real life, where we have to deal with our mistakes and hopefully learn from them.

Jonny Bell’s and David Harte’s Olympic dream was shattered PIC: World Sport pics

I’ve been asked what I think about the referral in the last seconds of the Canada v Ireland men’s qualifier. Would I have given a different decision? From the comfort of my ‘armchair’, yes I would. And I’m not going to hide behind the statement that the VU has different camera angles to call upon, as I don’t think that holds water in this case. But, I have a completely different experience than the umpire called upon to make that decision. This does not mean that I am definitely correct however, just that I may have more of a chance to arrive at the best decision because my processes have been established by making mistakes of my own over time.

A few issues ago I wrote about some of the factors that can influence the operation of the video umpire process, flagging up concerns about how the technology is employed and that it all seems to be going backwards rather than realising its considerable potential. The current process for appointing umpires was initiated by a change to facilitate the Pro League and Olympic qualifier schedule.

The FIH made a decision to move away from the ‘specialist’ panel of VUs, of which I was one, preferring to go back to the way it was previously with the appointed umpires taking turns to go into the box or act as the reserve (when numbers allow). This in itself may not be a major problem as we all have had to start somewhere. But when this is combined with inconsistent camera angles, and not using the Hawkeye technology (because of the lack of finance) to aid the VU, the likelihood for success diminishes hugely. Or in other words, has been an accident waiting to happen.

This leads me on to the criticism that a VU only had one or two matches experience before having to make decisions at an Olympic Qualifier. Yes, that may well be true. But what are the options? A team of three was appointed to cover the six appointments – made up of two on pitch and one VU (with the VU also acting as the reserve) for the two matches. If you don’t want this scenario, what are the options? Not to appoint umpires with little/no VU experience? How do they then gain that experience, particularly as video is only made available at relatively few tournaments?

This is not the only aspect of umpiring that is suffering for the current demands of the Pro League regime. Does the development of umpiring still rank as highly for the FIH as it once did, or are the umpires just appointed to ‘service’ the matches and take the blame when things don’t quite work out? I will leave it for others to discuss the pros and cons of the Pro League, but from this armchair all that I can see currently are cons for the umpiring community.

Can I close by reminding you of the decision made by the umpires at the Men’s Euro Nations Final match between Belgium and Germany a few months ago, when the query was whether the scored PC had been stopped with a hand rather than the stick. A combination of fabulous camera work and direction, along with clear headed VU process, resulted in a game changing and correct decision. It can work!

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In our latest, 32-page issue we feature:

  • Ollie Pope, from talented hockey player to England test cricketer
  • How 3G pitches are threatening yet another grass roots clubs
  • An incisive piece from our umpiring expert on the Canada-Ireland controversy
  • Rhys Smith’s fantastic new Inner City Hockey initiative
  • A full analysis of the recent Olympic qualifiers
  • We profile possibly the youngest hockey chairman – aged just 21!
  • Why club’s have a responsibility over concussion protocols
  • The best junior, grass roots, tips, history and Masters coverage – and MORE!