Hockey warning on TV replays (and shoot outs)

My position on TV replays in football is well rehearsed. I am very much in favour of the principle. However, hockey at the Olympics served as a cautionary note about the practice.

Hockey was my father’s sport and has always been in my blood (even if talent for it sadly was not!), and the hockey tournament has always been one of my favourite features of the Olympics since my father was closely involved in the coaching of players – including two from Northern Ireland – who won the gold medal in 1988. However, despite some glittering play from both Dutch teams, a fine team performance by the German men (again in my blood – my father played for Dortmund) and an excellent bronze for the British women, the tournament was one of the disappointments of the London games. This was primarily down to the unbelievably slow TV review system.

My understanding of the system – and I’d be keen to be corrected if I have misunderstood – was that each team was allowed an unlimited number of appeals to the TV review umpire, until such time as one was not upheld. This became subject to the law of unintentional consequences:

  • games took a lot longer – constant reviews, constant overturning of decisions and constant arguing about the whole thing took up a lot of time;
  • the field umpires lost confidence (or perhaps even lost concentration, aware the TV would sort out any errors) so that, as far as I could tell, the standard of on-field officiating was among the lowest I had ever seen (and in fact in one game the on-field officials seemed to spend much of the time arguing with each other!); and
  • the spirit and flow of the game was lost.

I am already of the view that we are now at the stage that too much of the game is reliant on penalty corners – teams are almost playing for them like rugby union teams playing for penalty kicks, a situation made even worse by reviews. Almost every time I switched to watch the hockey, a penalty corner was in the process of being sought, taken, reviewed or generally argued about. It was karma that Germany won the men’s final with two goals from open play, but small consolation after two weeks of almost unwatchable arguing!

Additionally, we also saw the first use of the “eight-second dribble” shoot out in the women’s semi between the Netherlands and New Zealand. I am not sure it worked; it is certainly not applicable to football, because a lot depends on the ability to keep time precisely between first touch and the ball entering the net (which itself requires specific time pieces and TV replays) – a practical impossibility at most levels of the game, both in the case of hockey and football.

Hockey does have a lot to do if it is not to become even more peripheral, as the viewing experience was awful. Football needs to heed the warning – the sight of players surrounding the referee is bad enough as it is.

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