Thursday, July 25, 2024

Should cards turn yellow when air turns blue?

We need to refrain from bad language in our beautiful sport and prevent it claiming a permanent foothold

No one likes to hear foul language in a sporting arena. Let alone within hockey, which is a sport that prides itself on a family feel. At international matches, the atmosphere is accommodating with occasional but rare bad language. On the pitch at club level? It seems a different story.

White line fever certainly impacts the temperament of many mild-mannered individuals. Were they to make a mistake in the workplace or whilst making a meal at home, they are unlikely to yell an expletive in frustration.

However, on the hockey pitch a mistrapped stop or an errant strike on goal may well provoke an adult-rated scream of irritation. The player is not insulting or intimidating an opponent or official, merely venting their displeasure with themselves. The junior players on the pitch and the often very young sons and daughters who are brought along to watch the hockey do hear it. They are no doubt impacted by the use of what in another environment would be deemed unacceptable language.

Despite being “non-contact”, there is no doubt that hockey is a physical game and that there is potential for confrontation within it. When collisions occur, balls are raised and controversy rears it’s head then hostility will transpire. It may be fair to say that some teams or players, especially at home, look for altercations as manner of discombobulating their opponents.

So, during the contretemps one or both players direct bad language towards one another. It is born out of anger and it is directed towards another player in an intentionally offensive tirade. Again, this is a reaction that would be considered deplorable in the workplace or any public domain.

A large amount of players’ irritation during matches is born out of dissatisfaction with an umpiring decision that they believe to be wrong. As the game progresses, the number of errors by the officials inevitably increases and the ire of the players follows suite. When the player’s aggravation reaches its zenith, they may well let out an obscenity.

Irish umpire Alison Keogh in action PIC: Ady Kerry

This is not directed at the umpire but is in reaction to their decision. Another player may take umbrage with the decision and direct his foul language at the official. This is intimidating and abusive towards those who facilitate us playing the game, which is both undesirable and insupportable in any scenario.

It is not only players who are culpable of improper language. There seems to be a growing acceptance of coaches swearing from the sideline. Coaching can be incredibly trying, as the brilliant strategy that has been contemplated for weeks is not being carried out exactly as drawn up on the whiteboard.

The only channel through which the manager can rectify the issues is via communication with the players. Often, they may have to project in order to alert their charges on the far side of the pitch as to how they must adjust their game play. This sometimes results in expletives cast across the entire turf, which are certainly audible for those watching.

These instances are all very different scenarios for the use of bad language. Are any of them acceptable and how should they be punished?

There is no doubting that the incidence of a player directly abusing an umpire should result in severe punishment. However, does the competitor who yells a swear word in frustration at his own ineptitude deserve the same penalty?

When there is confrontation between players, is the umpires’ main job to protect their physical safety and is foul language just part of the combative nature of sport?

Does the coach adhere to different rules as they do not have the excuse of being involved within the physical battle and should they be acting as a role model to those playing and watching?

One of the joys of hockey is that, unlike football, it doesn’t have bad language entrenched within the game. We need to maintain this in our beautiful sport and prevent swearing from claiming a permanent foothold.

Do you agree? Join our forum for free and keep the discussion going

Total Hockey



  1. Played in an East League game recently where one of the opponents was shouting obscenities throughout the game. Sadly his young teenage son was also playing and followed his poor example. Both were very talented players but a disgrace to their club.

  2. Tony, I agree. I am a qualified umpire and despise audible foul language. I find that a word with the player usually gets my message across citing youngsters or parents as likely offendees. By not stopping the game but making my words heard shows empathy if ‘frustration swearing’ but also intolerance for the casual use of foul language which whilst more common place lately is none the less offensive to many. If my comments can be heard by the spectators then it helps them to understand that this behaviour is not welcome but is dealt with, firmly and fairly. The result generally is a discrete but sincere apology from the player without repercussions.
    I also think that when drawing comparisons we should look more towards rugby and the way it’s officials explain and control their game which I think contributes to mutual respect.

  3. It’s simple. Tell the players before the game that the club has a zero tolerance to bad language.
    A muttered curse might be forgivable but anything else should be carded.
    We need to stamp this out!

  4. Good point Tim – and what should happen to the Coach? If the Coach persists do you ask him/her to leave the cage or do you card the team captain?

  5. It is, as stated, not a frequent occurrence and, where it has occurred, a quiet (or even more widely audible) request to use another adjective/adverb/verb/etc. usually does the trick. In more blatant examples (a tirade against teammates, for example) I have pointed out that we were in a public park used by others, including young families, Equally, that usually does the trick.

    There is also the point that many clubs use facilities provided by their local authority at favourable rents or leases (if any), and rely on maintaining goodwill with that authority to continue to enjoy those facilities. Public complaints arising from the use of bad language during games does not help that very beneficial relationship.

    However, I did umpire a game where a player who was ‘encouraging’ his team after they had scored, but using foul language in the process, I made the usual approach, saying that I recognised his passion but asking him to use other words to express it (pointing out the young family sitting not a hundred yards away, watching the match).

    I got positive acknowledgement but, ten minutes later, the team scored again and, yes, he used the same word again. This time, I gave him a five minute yellow, not just to reflect my view of the severity of the offence but also to give him time to consider why I did so.

    Some may argue that I was exceeding my authority, that no such offence explicitly exists. They would be right but, in the absence of unequivocal direction, you have two choices – throw your hands up and assume there is nothing that can be done or look for guidance in other parts of the Rule Book. I have done the latter and point to Page 42 of the full 2019 (reviewed 2021) set, on “Umpiring”.

    There, I find that the “Objectives” 1.2 a, b & c (citing the raising of standards, playing in the right spirit and increasing the enjoyment for all) provide clear guidance to me as an umpire on the place of bad language in our game but I still look for more. Yes, we are expected to aspire to/encourage those objectives but can we issue a card, if required?

    If you go to Page 16, Section 3 “Captains”, you will find, under 3.4, that captains “are responsible for the behaviour of all players on their team” and “a personal penalty is awarded if a captain does not exercise these responsibilities”.

    A bit tenuous, perhaps, but I reason that if I can penalise a captain for the behaviour of his/her player, I can equally penalise the player.

    However, researching as I wrote this comment, I believe the EH Code of Ethics and Behaviour answers all our questions.

    All individuals involved in hockey will, at all times:

    Respect the spirit of fair play in hockey. This is more than playing within the rules. It also incorporates the concepts of friendship, respect for others and always participating with the right spirit.

    ƒ Respect the rights, dignity and worth of others.
    ƒ Conduct themselves in a manner that takes all reasonable measures to protect their own safety and the safety of others.
    ƒ Promote the reputation of the sport and take all possible steps to prevent it from being brought into disrepute.
    ƒ Protect themselves and others involved in the game from verbal or physical abuse and threatening or intimidating behaviour.
    ƒ Never use inappropriate language or gestures.

  6. I laughed and laughed, I gave Michael one of those at Richmond when he was being quite vocal from the bench many years ago. I had to explain a few things to him then.


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