It may be a cliché, but it is nevertheless very true - hockey cannot exist without umpires! Here in Mpumalanga we are very proud of our umpires who turn up week after week - sometimes under trying conditions - to make hockey possible for all. Not only do they officiate at our matches, but they are also regular participants at regional and national tournaments.
New Rules and Local Rules
In its quest to continually improving the nature of the sport of hockey, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has made a number of changes to the rules as implemented on 1 January 2013.
In a significant change, a "mandatory experimental rule" change has been implemented. This is a rule which has been trialled at one or more tournaments, and is now being applied throughout the world in order to determine whether it warrants becoming an official rule. The rule in question is the so-called "own goal rule". In the past it was a requirement that a member of the attacking team must play the ball within the circle before it enters the goal for the goal to be awarded. The rule now states that the ball must be "played" (ie: legally) by an attacker, OR "touched" (ie: any part of body or stick) by a defender within the circle. For example, if any player plays the ball towards the goal from outside of the circle and it deflects off the stick or body of a defender and enters the goal, then a goal is awarded to the attacking team, even though it was not played in the circle by an attacker. However, all safety rules still apply - attackers may not endanger defenders by, for example, hitting the ball high towards a defender from outside of the circle in an attempt at forcing an "own goal".
Another significant rule change states that, when taking a self-pass at a free hit, it need not be two distinct actions any more. That implies that a player may immediately start dribbling at a free hit without "making it live" first. Furthermore the rule that previously stated that a free hit may not be raised intentionally now states that it may not be intentionally "lifted by hitting". The implication is that it may intentionally be raised by flicking or scooping - a so-called "overhead" pass may now be made directly from a free hit. The rule that requires that the ball travel 1m from a free hit before it may be played by a team-mate of the player who took it, has also been removed. It is important to note that free hit rules still do not apply at a penalty corner push-in where the ball may not be raised and a self-pass may not be taken (the player taking the push-in may not approach within playing distance of the ball until another player has played it).
There has also been a minor change in the rule that determines where a bully may be taken. In the past the rule stated that it may not be taken closer than 15m (16y) from the back-line. The rule now also states that it may be taken less than 5m from the circle. This would apply to a bully being given for an incident in the middle of the circle, where only taking it up to the 16y line would have resulted in it being taken on the edge of the circle.
A number of smaller technical rule changes were also implemented, including new stick specifications and methods for testing these. Please refer to the 2013 rule book (available on the Downloads page) where all changes have been marked with a line in the left margin.
The South African Hockey Association has also announced that it will continue applying a number of "local rules". These are rules that differ from those in the rule book and are normally only applied at international level, but will be applied at all levels of play in South Africa in order to accustom players to them. The first is the rule that requires that a player who has been "green-carded" must leave the field for two minutes of playing time. The "local" rule for yellow cards require that the umpire indicate to the technical official how long a player is to be suspended. This must be in multiples of 5 minutes (ie: 5, 10, 15,.. minutes). If the umipre fails to indicate a duration, the player is only suspended for 5 minutes. For both green and yellow cards, the technical official is responsible for allowing the player back onto the field. An umpire may upgrade a suspension from green to yellow, or increase the duration of a yellow card suspension by indicating it to the technical official.
The other "local rule" is the so-called "early break" rule. It states that a defender who breaks early at a penalty corner is sent to the halfway line and the team must defend the corner with one less player. If the goalkeeper breaks early, a field player is sent to the halfway line. An attacker who break into the circle early is also sent to the halfway line, but may be replaced at the circle by a team-mate.
While umpires are a critical part in each hockey match, it does not always seem to be true for a significant proportion of our umpires. This is demonstrated especially by virtue of the fact that few of them seem to consider their part in the sport of sufficient consequence to go to the trouble of being correctly attired when carrying out their duties.
We as umpires demand respect from the players and are quick to sanction players who overstep the bounds in this regard. However, the simple act of having a whistle in the hand does not by itself entitle an umpire to such respect. Before having the right to being respected, umpires need to show the same level of commitment to the match as the players who go to the trouble of preparing for their matches, being properly attired in team colours and striving to perform to their best ability throughout the match. That means that umpires also need to prepare, both off the field by ensuring they are up to date with all rules and interpretations, as well as immediately prior to the match with adequate warming up to ensure they are sufficiently mobile. Once on the field, an umpire needs to project an image of someone who is taking the match seriously and, apart from correctly applying the rules, this is further achieved by being correctly attired and by using positive body language throughout the match. That is why “Proper umpire attire” is one of the evaluation criteria when umpires are graded.
Schools are therefore reminded that they are to ensure that umpires are correctly attired when officiating all matches, regardless of the level of play. All umpires are required to wear one of the three colours of official Malik umpire shirts, with both umpires wearing the same colour. Men are required to wear black slacks and ladies a black skirt with long black socks. All umpires must wear suitable sports shoes, preferably black or a dark colour. Sunglasses are not to be worn under any circumstances and, while caps may be worn if conditions necessitate it, it is generally not recommended in order that completely unobstructed eye-contact with players remains possible.
Should any schools wish to obtain the official umpire shirts, they may contact Kathleen Faling from K&T Sports, the official distributors of Malik products in South Africa, at 079-873-7089.