The FIH’s idea behind the proposed changes is to enhance the safety and to slowly minimise the use of protective equipment by the defenders during penalty corners.
But it can’t be denied that the sport of hockey has seen rules changing more frequently compared to most other popular sports. Be it abolishing the off-side rule, taking a long-corner from the 23-yard line, allowing a solo player to restart the game after a foul or the one-on-one penalty shootouts, the list is quite long.
And while the jury is still out on whether such frequent change of rules woos back fans on the premise of making the game faster and more exciting, or it confuses them even further, the news of a tweak in PC rules has led to raised eyebrows and dropped jaws.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT PENALTY CORNER RULES?
In the prevailing PC rules, the injector pushes the ball from the baseline to the top of the striking circle (commonly called the ‘D’), where a player dead-stops it just outside the circle, allowing the flicker to drag it inside the circle and unleash flicks that can touch speeds in the vicinity of 120 kmph and more.
With the danger of aerial flicks hitting and seriously injuring a defender, protective equipments like face masks, gloves, etc., are allowed to be worn by the defenders, who have to then remove these and throw them out of the playing area after the set piece has either resulted in a goal or has been foiled.
WHAT ARE THE PROPOSED CHANGES IN RULES?
To improve the safety quotient, the FIH has offered to trial a tweaked form of the PC routine.
Titled ‘5m Out’ by the FIH, the proposed rule states: “The ball must travel at least 5 metres outside of the striking circle, beyond the 5-metre dotted circle, before a goal can be scored. The number of defenders remains the same at five. All attackers except for the initial injector must start 5 metres outside the circle (dotted line). No restriction on height of the shots at goal once the ball has travelled outside the 5-metre dotted line and returned inside the circle.”
The move has riled up most of the hockey fraternity that believes the most exciting part of their sport must not be tinkered with.
Without commenting on any of those reactions, the FIH, when contacted by Timesofindia.com on the sidelines of the men’s Asian Champions Trophy here in Chennai, said that while an offer of trial has been made, the apex body has also “advised that no competitions that include athletes who are hoping to qualify for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 are used for the trial as the rules will not change before then”.
“We do not want to upset their preparation,” the FIH added in its reply to Timesofindia.com. “Therefore, the Asian Champions Trophy is not a competition that we would expect to be used for a trial of new rules.
“We have offered all Continental Federations and National Associations the opportunity to trial the new rules over the next 12 months. The choice of which competition or tournament they wish to use the trial rule in is up to them,” the governing body of world hockey further said.
While there has been no official reaction in favour of or against the proposed rule-change and its trial by most national federations, including Hockey India, so far, England Hockey issued a statement saying that they will “consider” it but won’t trial it in the ongoing league season in the country.
“England Hockey is aware of information from the FIH being circulated regarding a trial for rule changes to penalty corners…England Hockey will consider activity where trials might be possible but to confirm that these are not mandatory and will not apply to league hockey in England in 2023-24,” the statement read.
Former Pakistan goalkeeper Salman Akbar, meanwhile, urged the FIH to rethink.
Writing on his Facebook page, the 2010 Asian Games gold medallist mentioned: “International Hockey Federation (FIH) FIH Academy kindly rethink. This will limit the influence of goalkeepers in winning tournaments. Drag-flick is an art and has equal influence in winning tournaments. Eliminating this battle between PC defence and attack will not bring any attraction or benefit to this beautiful sport.”
Akbar comes from the era of hockey that saw one of the greatest exponents of drag-flicks, the legendary Sohail Abbas, who terrorized rushers and goalkeepers in PCs with his unmatched skills and conversion rate.
Sohail scored an astonishing 348 goals in his career.
THE STORY BEHIND THE CHANGES IN PC RULES
The idea to introduce a change in penalty-corner rules was first floated in May last year, when the FIH launched a global consultation progamme called the ‘Future of Penalty Corner’, inviting the sport’s various stakeholders to participate and give their views on how players’ safety can be enhanced during PCs.
“I had over 4300 responses from around the world, mainly from players, but there were some coaches, some officials and other umpires who got involved,” Jon Wyatt, the FIH Sport and Development Director, had told Timesofindia.com during the men’s World Cup held in Odisha earlier this year.
Wyatt also recognised the possibility of drag-flick opportunities being minimised if and when the new set of rules become part of the FIH Rule Book.
“The challenge with that one is that does it still give the opportunity for a drag-flick, because the ball has to go that further out? The teams will then have to find a way of getting the ball back into the circle or near the circle,” Wyatt had said.
In the ‘5m out’ document circulated by FIH, the federation mentioned that one of the things to test during the trial phase will be to see if “5 defenders give the right level of overload to give the attacking team a good chance (25%) of scoring. This could be increased, or decreased, to achieve the desired scoring chances.”
But if what Wyatt mentioned while sharing his thoughts extensively in the interview with Timesofindia.com continues to hold true after the trial phase, international hockey games post the Paris Olympics may see the ball travelling to the 5m dotted line from the point of injection on set pieces.
“Definitely nothing will change before the 2024 Paris Olympics because everyone needs to prepare for that (change in rules)…If we do change anything, we’ll try to make the change immediately after the Paris Olympics, so that the teams have two years to prepare for the World Cup.”