The Irishman ‘case’

(worldsportpics Copyright Dirk Markgraf)

I’ve once heard the Dutch umpire Coen van Bunge, stating that: ‘Hockey could be something in-between Football (soccer) and Rugby’.
Coen was specifically talking about umpiring styles and communication. I liked and totally ‘bought into’ that idea.

I like the balance between those 2 sports different cultures, I thought that balance would represent a fine platform for hockey to be and strive upon.

In rugby. there is almost a sacred respect for the game, umpire and opponents. Rugby flourished in a similar socio-cultural context than hockey. There is a certain chivalry, nobility and fair play associated as values of that game.
On the other hand, football (or soccer), is a sport of and for the masses. There is a certain practicality and straightforwardness in football.
Football at its base level, represents the inner, instinctive (wild?) and competitive behaviour of individuals. Contrary to Rugby, it has  become acceptable not be composed.

As I stated before, I like these contrasts and I thought it would be a perfect fit for hockey . At the very least, this is the sporting profile and ‘identity path’ I would like hockey to be part of. We need to hold on to  our traditions,heritage  and values but ‘if there’s no friction there is is no shine’.. If we want to truly evolve as a sport that will become more popular and accessible then we should consider what our game really stands for.

Seems to me, that the world always find a ‘natural’ equilibrium between different forces to progress: talent and effort, man and women, order and chaos, truth and faith and the list goes on…

This past weekend we had some important matches played around the world: The Olympic qualifiers were played, a 2 matches series, both at home of the best ranked team (which seems a format in need of review) in a ‘best of 2’ wins.
A basic qualifying system, in case of result draw, goals will dictate the winner, in case of goals and result draw, the teams would engage in a serie of shootouts.

One match was of particular interest: Canada vs Ireland, due to the the opponents being very evenly matched (on paper). The tie became even more intriguing,  when David Harte, one of the best hockey goalkeepers ever and the talismanic leader of the  ‘Green Machine’ had to withdraw from the tie, due to injury.

(worldsportpics Copyright Dirk Markgraf)

There was an incident in the end of the second match, that would become immensely polemic, regarding the decision from the Video Umpire to concede Canada a penalty stroke. That allow the home team to draw the qualifier, consequently going into a shoutout series, where the Canadians would beat Ireland (5-4) and win their ticket to Tokyo Games in 2020.

The video below will show you the situation that is leading to a huge discussion within the hockey community.

Draw whatever the conclusions you want.

In a very basic explanation, a Canadian attacker enters in the circle right before the final whistle. Apparently, there is stick and/or body contact that provokes the Canadian to fall – I say apparently because the video footage available doesn’t provide a clear sight of the incident.
The Canadian team requires their video referral, at first the field umpire have not awarded any kind of penalty as ended the match. The video umpire, observed the situation (with more camera angles available?) and decided to give a penalty stroke to the Canadian team. This decision considers a higher level of infraction than ‘just’ a penalty corner, that (apparently) looked like the appropriate decision to take.
On stake, a possible 3rd goal for Canada, that would take, as it did, the qualifier to a shootout decision.

I would like to make very clear that this article is focussed on  the many discussions born out of  this highly contentious decision and not the actual incident itself. For any technical umpiring questions feel free to consult the world’s biggest specialist Keely Dunn (a.k.a @FHumpires), a knowledgeable and articulate lady from Canada (isn’t that ironic).

I merely want to reflect about the nuances of the discussion and what I have been testifying among twitter and social media circles.

Football, Technology and Cigarettes

Quickly going off on another tangent, I recently heard the artist Kanye West calling ‘social media apps (facebook, twitter, etc) modern-day cigarettes‘.
This struck me as most fitting analogy.

I, for one, am always up for a good debate and discussion about all matters involving hockey. 
Everything, with due diligence, intellectual honesty and respect can and should be discussed. Why not? 
Therefore, I often engage on the most diverse discussion topics on twitter and real life, not only do I appreciate the disruptive nature of some discussions and the intellectual challenges and ethical dilemmas arising from such conversations but I also embellish the effective learning that can come from such discussion.

Furthermore, I think this sport presents not only some paradoxical conflicts that need addressing, mostly from an evolutionist and progressive perspective, but it is still a platform where people are willing to debate and share opinions with a reasonable modicum of education and decency.

This recent polemic discussion about ‘the Canadian penalty stroke’ went, as far as I am concerned, completely out of bonds.
I realize that at stake was an Olympic Qualifier, which brought an imminent pressure and media coverage to all directly involved, unusual for a hockey match, even at international level.

What I don’t understand is some of the biased, poisoned and unfounded rhetoric being spat out since the infamous incident in Vancouver.

To be clear, I have the outmost respect for a lot of Irish great hockey people, David Passmore, Stephen Findlater, Johny Caren or David Harte to name a few. If something due to that fact, that I am European and only have found memories about my coaching interactions with Irish teams and individuals I would always be more supportive to the Green Army to qualify to the Olympics than Canada.
Not to mention that I still believe in the European domestic league model above other else worldwide, and for that fact, alone, I think it is important that model prevail.
I have always looked up to a country like Ireland as an example of a relative small domestic reality where dedication and passion for the game enable their teams to compete, consistently, on a very high level.
For all of that and for the fact, that if effectively there was a wrong and unfair decision making them lose the match, I feel for them.
I genuinely feel for them in the same scale that I can think about why didn’t they solve the qualifier on the previous 119 minutes?
Yep, a stupid thought for a stupid controversy.

My point here goes beyond winning or losing. I feel for Ireland as I feel for any other team that unfairly lost a match or a competition. As hard and plain as this might sound.
Some people bring up the argument that for some matches umpiring mistakes are unacceptable, for other matches ‘less important’ are acceptable because the consequences differ.
That is one of the points that I extremely oppose and which I am frankly surprised that so many people are bringing up. It is just an incoherent and a morally wrong logic.
These boys have been working so hard years after years for this opportunity, is another sentence I have read. Yeah I get that, but haven’t the  Canadians too, and come to that all the athletes with the same dedication and ambition to compete on the Olympic stage doing the same? 

I know, we brought technology to avoid this kind of situation. We brought the Video Umpire because as an open and sophisticated sport we seek the truth and fair competitive circumstances.

‘We’, that so many times speak loud and proud about the success of our VU compared with the Football VAR, are now ‘ashamed’ about this system?!
Is that possible that even with the technology and VU procedure available, that the vast majority of us so often praise and that definitely brought a higher level of truth and fairness to our game, there are human mistakes or misjudgements?
Yes, it is and it seems the case here.

So from now on, we tell our children that there is no injustice in life and competitive sports?
Or we rather teach them to accept and overcome (possible) injustices?

I have read so many accusations in the last couple of hours, from people with all kind of social responsibilities such as journalist, athletes, coaches, even politicians (they always show up in the right occasions) blaming the VU system and the FIH itself, some even implying that this was a ‘fix’…
Give me a break…

If you are a player or a coach, you were most definitely on both sides of the fence.
You have either won or lost unfairly and you have accepted, you have respected it. This moral, ethical and practical ‘experience’ is a big part if not the biggest part of participating in competitive sports. This really doesn’t differ according to the dimension and importance of the match you are playing.
This might sound like cheap philosophy but it is fundamental that some sacred principles of the game, any game prevail.
One certainty is that the strongest team doesn’t always prevail, another is that there will always be (human) mistakes, and as hard to swallow as they might be, we need to move on.

(worldsportpics Copyright Dirk Markgraf)

There are some lessons to take out of this polemic situation.
One is definitely hockey can create emotion, drama and when touching the right buttons can put a substantial amount of people discussing it.
Then, there are a couple of more technical questions to address such as camera angles available, experience of VU’s on this kind of matches, the possibility of cooperation VU-field umpire on the decision process.

We all have responsibilities in the way we ‘carry’ the sport onwards.


Bernardo Fernandes

Thanks once again to Dirk Markgraf for his outstanding photos to illustrate my writings.

7 thoughts on “The Irishman ‘case’

  1. siegfried says:

    Hi Bernardo I agree with you on some points, about the video umpires decision I think he was right, but for me that is one part of what happened, the after part is also interesting as you said and I agree that we should be more respectful with each other although I also understand the 1st emotions. For me the Irish Captain was respectful to the opponent and everyone but disagreed with the video umpire. your final remark about learning to accept disappointments is one which I think makes sense and that’s why I strongly believe that we must teach our players to deal with disappointment and move on. In this case a stroke was rewarded Ireland could have saved the stroke, then there were shootouts where they had a great opportunity to finish the match in their advantage. They didn’t do so, Canada did and won the series. Great job. After the emotions one day later I think that either the umpire made an error which is part of human behaviour or he didn’t and then it was a right decision. I believe it was a right decision and if it wasn’t a stroke it would have been a penalty corner and Canada could have converted that one too like Holland did vs Pakistan. By the way that penalty corner was also debatable. The main issue is how we deal with this incident i think we should debate and learn instead of blaming and shaming. We should have an objective discussion about what we saw and what the penalty should have been according the rules. I think that the video refferals are a blessing many times the teams win the refferal and if not its finished. it ends the endless discussion with the umpire and as I have seen in the series players tried but when the umpire asked if they wanted a refferal they didn’t. The refferal is a tool based on human judgement which can be debatable but its our final call. we need to accept that call for the result and debate it later to learn for the future. Teaching players to do so is an important task for coaches.

  2. Fred says:

    This is such a soft response. Hockey is over officiated at every level, with the umpires always wanting to blow their whistles. The video referral has shown that they often make the wrong decisions at international level. So everyone knows the umpires make mistakes, but don’t be the one to tell them or you will get a card for dissent. So they are right even when they are wrong.

    • Peter says:

      you are talking like the situation was very clear and the VU did obv. a wrong desicion. How can *you* judge it? Seems like “you are right even when you could be wrong”. And did you ever ask yourself in case: you are telling the ref, that the decision was wrong or take a look at this or that….it´s always about the kind of kommunication, but at first you got the VU for that. After this you need to be quite because the ref has no more options to take a look again on a critical situation. The Solution is, that you comment on sth what happened in the past and noone is able to judge it “in the right way” cause its gone. So we just got comments to the refs about the past, they aren´t able to correct it, but they are able to think about their own misstakes even when the game is still on. And that´s my point, even Umpires will take a look at the Video footage again and again, try to see what happened and to learn sth about it. But when ever in life you have to work on sth. and someone comes over and says “this was wrong” mostly you arent able to ciorrect it straight by your self. Yes, now you know that you have done sth wrong, but how do you do it like i should be? Try to help the People, in our case the refs, how they could be “better” or more transparent and do it after the game. While the is game is still on focus on your self, that helps alot 😉
      Btw. its very funny that your conclusion “umpires make mistakes”, comes from one desicion, on VU and one game…..just take a look at your conclusion it selfs. It´s trivial!
      And at the end, if refs wont be right in the game, even when they are wrong, our game would be just a discussion about life and death.

      have a great day

    • James says:

      An excellent article. I’ve spent a lot of time reading different people’s opinions and looking at the social media response to this decision. Let’s be honest it’s not ideal to see a nation miss out on an Olympic spot due to an umpire decision. However, nobody has yet come to real discussion that needs to be had.

      The players are progressional or semi-Pro and yet the umpires are all amateurs. They volunteer for the love of the sport. They get their travel expenses and have to take their own work holidays to be there. The real question is how do FIH now support them to be as professional as the players.

  3. ALEX says:

    the decision was wrong and putting up the argument that players do make mistakes in a game holds no water in this case.The VU had time to make the decision(over one minute) and FIH had the responsibility to ensure that an experienced VU was in the box for a match of this magnitude.Though it is sad the abusive comments directed towards him.

  4. John says:

    Don’t agree with most of what has been written in this article. The video of the incident which I have watched numerous times, clearly shows that (a) the Canadian player was not tripped, he fell over himself with hardly any contact and (b) he was in no position to shoot at goal let alone force a save from the Irish keeper.
    The Canadian was trying to salvage something from his own mistake realizing it was their only chance of winning. He cheated. The video judge should never have been allowed to make such an erroneous decision on his own, he was clearly nervous and obviously incompetent. What a shame that Ireland were robbed of the win. It is irrelevant that Canada scored the penalty and won the shoot out because Ireland over the 2 days had rightfully won their place in the Olympics. How do the leading experts on umpiring view this decision, do any of them honestly think they would have come to the same conclusion as the video ref on the day? I think not, and I feel the only fair course of action would be to allow a replay of this match. If the Canadians had any integrity they would concede to this. If the Irish Hockey Union had any backbone they would have demanded this loudly.

  5. nickyandandrewindianepalndrew says:

    This was interesting and I’d like to make a simple observation – I comment on the technical side of the event rather than the game and the decision that has caused comment..

    FIH actually bear most of the responsibility.

    The VU, especially in this event, is posablity the most important appointment of the match with the most influence or certainly they have to make some of the most important decisions of a match.

    The technical support for all umpires at this event, including video support was poor! Camera angles were poor, experience in the VU box and even the ability for the on field umpires to communicate with VU was difficult – game 1 they had to speak through a third party!

    This was FIH event and they hold ultimate responsbility – i understand the VU (who I believe is very well regarded as a good international field umpire ) this was one of his first appointments as VU – different skill set and you do not send someone to slaughter like this without experience.

    FIH cannot change the result – thats the rules and they have to support the umpires and the structure THEY put in place. They failed in the technical support and mix of appointments for this match. It’s that simple and we need to question the current FIH structures now and in to the future!

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