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Archive for January 14, 2007

Jan. 14, 2007 — Can this genie be put back into the bottle?

It was 1993 when non-wooden field hockey sticks started showing up in some places. Easton, which is well-known for softball and baseball bats, created a metal tube in which was inserted a wooden toe for field hockey.

It was banned a few years after, but these days you are hard-pressed not to find a field hockey stick made of some space-age material or with an ersatz shape to it.

Who can forget the Mercian Zig-Zag, or the Malik goalkeeper stick with the toe that formed an arc about nine inches in diameter? Manufacturers have been stretching the limits of the traditional field hockey stick, and adventurous players have been heating, molding, flexing, and soaking their sticks to create shapes and designs that boggle the mind.

Stiffer, bowed sticks are now meant for drag-flicking and striking the ball extremely hard. At top levels of the sport, the ball is moving much faster than can be reasonably expected to be safe.

Field hockey is not the only sport in which technological changes in equipment have outstripped the rulesmakers’ ability to regulate it.

Take, for example, women’s lacrosse. In the early part of the 21st Century, some players started coming up with the radical idea of lowering the sidewall to move the ball off the central axis of the lacrosse stick.

The overseers of women’s lacrosse chose to keep the offset stick; you didn’t have the dropsies that you might have seen with a conventional head, and it is easier to control the ball in traffic and place the ball on a shot.

Of course, it added about 20 miles an hour to each throw, meaning that a player in close defense on an attacker had to risk getting hurt, shooting space be damned. That led to the mandatory eyewear rules at most levels in the sport in 2004.

In field hockey, the rulesmakers have chosen to keep the bow in the stick, since it has led to more goals. It has also spawned drag-flick specialists like Pakistan’s Sohail Abbas, whose deft flicks to the top corners were crowd-pleasers at the Olympics although they were highly hazardous to the health of the average corner defender.

The FIH has tried to strike back at the radical designs of sticks by limiting the bow to 25 millimeters. It might do well to re-outlaw composites and go back to straight mulberry.

It’s not too late. I hope.