The Umpire- Elephant in the Room?

Let us take a break from the shocker matches this weekend. If you are yet to receive the news, the Nairobi Sikh Union lost three goals to nil to nearly bottom-placed Western Jaguars. This result followed another amazing display last weekend, whereby the Jaguars beat the Kenya Police 1-0, breaking the latter’s 21 game unbeaten streak. Another shock today as Western Jaguars for the first time in history went back home with a whole six points from two matches at City Park stadium as the pounced past defending champions Strathmore University in a two-goal match. It would seem the Jaguars were not experiencing a stroke of good luck, and if so, then this must be the Christmas spirit. As most teams come to a close of their hockey year, it is probably best to address the elephant in the room.

Perhaps more than usual, this year has had more than its fair amount of umpire-player clashes. Cases of specific umpires appearing non objective in their control of matches have prevailed, with some matches culminating in bitter disputes between team managers and the umpire. The past four weeks have seen a match end in an exchange of blows between a player and an umpire, a team walk out of a match, and multiple cards awarded to a single team within less than 15 minutes. The events have translated into disciplinary cases for the players, with the fate of the umpires often unknown as such matters are at the discretion of the union.

It would be easy to blame shady, or shoddy, umpiring for these controversies. The opinion among majority players is that the quality of local umpiring is too low, and often based on personal intentions, views, and affections. The general feeling is that the umpiring book must be written in Braille to warrant the poor judgment. At the international scale, on the other hand, Kenyan umpires put up a commendable display. The view from the other side sites an increase in player indiscipline and rebellion. The current breed of players has been accused of being too volatile, misguided, and essentially- knowing it all.

So where is the problem? Is it that the local umpires are suffering from a case of the foggy eye, and making all the wrong calls? Have the players transcended their roles in the field and simply forgotten their place?

The Kenya Hockey Union will elections take place any time soon, and one cannot help but wonder exactly what kind of change any new leadership could accomplish for the sport in Kenya. It is probably futile to hope for much, but nobody ever died from hoping. After these elections, the dream is that the Union puts this matter to rest at last. Hockey is a game for gentlemen (and ladies). It is about time the Union recognized the core of the matter, and took steps to restore the game to its rightful place in the spectrum of gentlemanly civility.


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