By Sophie Penney
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) says that at grassroots hockey it is struggling to collect sufficient data used to assess what safety improvements are needed.
Responding to several safety improvement concerns and suggestions made to the Hockey Paper by Olympian John Shaw and other readers, the FIH added that it is looking into the dangers of reverse stick hitting at a junior level and at implementing a concussion protocol.
Injury data allows the FIH to determine whether certain developments in the game are leading to an increased risk and therefore to make the necessary changes or improvements to FIH’s processes and rules.
“I think where it’s patchy or less complete is at the lower levels or grassroots levels, “said Jon Wyatt, FIH’s sport and development director and former GB Olympic captain. “We’re confident in the data that we collect from FIH events because we’ve been collecting it for a long time now but that is a very small number of events. If we’re honest that process could certainly be better.”
FIH’s health and safety committee are working to tackle this issue by encouraging its members in 137 countries to collect that data, but they say it isn’t an easy task. “Getting someone who gets a whack during the game to fill in the form and send it to the right person is easier said than done. It’s probably only the top 30 or so national associations around the world that actually have paid full-time staff and they have to run the game, organise events and club structures.”
As part of these ongoing discussions the FIH were responsive to the safety debate that reverse stick hits are too dangerous at junior level.
“It’s really interesting actually, that was the first time I’ve heard that particular idea voiced by someone as credible as John,” said Wyatt, who shared a room with Shaw at the Atlanta Olympics. “It’s certainly something that we will discuss and look at.”
However, Wyatt said that there are some considerations that would have to be taken into account before a change was made. “We certainly haven’t seen any evidence or had any anecdotal reports on incidents of injury increasing since reverse stick shooting was allowed.”
“One of our aims is to make the rules as as simple as possible for anyone watching the game and if you add different rules for different age groups it might just make it a more complicated game.”
Something that the health and safety committee are actively considering is implementing a more formalised concussion protocol like in rugby. However, the FIH was less responsive to suggestions that there should be a shot height limit on drag flicks. “We certainly haven’t seen anecdotal or data-driven suggestions that the number of Injuries occurring due to drag flick height is increasing.”
The same is true for protective equipment for outfield players. “Wearing a mask clearly restricts your vision to a certain degree and that may impact on reaction times, “ he said.
The FIH are also still concerned about the “Gladiator effect” where players put themselves at greater risk because the protective clothing that they are wearing makes them feel invincible.
THP columnist Todd Williams suggested in a recent issue that while safety at PC’s have been discussed over the years, the reverse hit has yet to have meaningful discussions at the top level as the game and stick technology progresses.
Meanwhile, one of the world’s best drag flickers wants face masks to be made mandatory at PCs.
Hampstead & Westminster’s Matt Guise-Brown says that it is important to put the right precautions in place to limit the danger, where currently face masks are only recommended.
“Making face masks in penalty corners obligatory makes sense,” said Guise-Brown.
Safety in hockey has become an important and timely issue following notable injuries in recent years, including Nicola White, who suffered a debilitating concussion in 2018.
With concussion injuries on the rise, White is urging the FIH to look more closely into player safety as the game continues to evolve.
She said: “The FIH hold the rules and regulations. They are aware that this has been flagged up but whether it will be implemented soon, that’s what I’m not so sure about.”