FEATURE: Every four years, the China Hockey Association asks the International Hockey Federation to appoint neutral male and female FIH umpires to China‘s flagship events: the China National Games and the China National Games Preliminaries. The qualifiers for these events were played in Beijing (men) and Jiangsu (women), with the main event taking place in Liaoning Province in September. The FIH neutral umpires for the men’s qualifier in Beijing were England’s Dan Barstow and Marcin Grochal of Poland. The umpiring duo have put together a short story recapping their experiences in China.
Before we arrived in China, we were lucky enough to find out that the men’s qualifier was taking place in Beijing. Beijing is not only China‘s biggest city, but also one of the most vibrant and lively places in the world. We were accommodated in the Olympic Sports Centre, which had the hockey pitch right next to it. During the Beijing 2008 Olympics the Sports Centre was used as a training venue and throughout the year it enjoys regular use as training ground for all China hockey national teams.
The format of the qualifier consisted of ten teams playing in two pools of five. The top two teams in each pool would play in the Semi Finals, while the remaining teams would play off for the fifth to tenth positions. Seven of the ten teams would qualify for the National China Games, which take place in September. The China Hockey Association appointed twelve umpires for the event, which included two female officials. The officials were overseen by FIH umpire Chen Dekang, who on this occasion also took charge of umpire management.
The standard of the hockey on show at the event was quite high. With the majority of the teams training full-time, the technical skills on show were impressive and the fitness levels were extraordinary, something which was definitely needed when you consider that each team played a total of seven matches during the ten day competition.
With the top seven teams guaranteeing a place in the National China Games, it comes as no surprise that the final round matches deciding the 5-8th ranked teams were very competitive. There were a number of unexpected results and close matches, some of which were decided in the dying minutes of the matches. The tournament final was thrilling, going all the way to the Shoot-Out both normal and extra time finished with the scores locked at 2-2. The Inner Mongolia team were the eventual winners, winning the Shoot-Out 3-1.
For a national event, we were impressed by the sophisticated video umpiring system that was used in the tournament. They used a system involving three manned and two fixed cameras to help the Video Umpire with their decisions during the most important moments of the game. Obviously, as two non-Chinese speaking umpires, there was a language barrier when trying to communicate with the video umpire, but the hosts had a plan for everything! During our games there was a translator waiting on the side-lines who would step on the pitch if either of the teams decided to use a video referral. We are pleased to report that it worked incredibly well.
Our visit to China was not just about hockey. Thanks to the wonderful hospitality that we experienced during our stay, we had the chance to see the tourist side of Beijing including the Olympic Park, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. We also tasted the local cuisine such as the world-famous Beijing Roasted Duck, and visit many other remarkable areas that all make the Chinese capital one of the most incredible cities in Asia.
During the trip we encountered a number of different cultural differences. We found that a knife and fork is a rare commodity in Beijing, so we learned to eat with chopsticks. We both are masters of the art now, even if we still haven’t quite figured out how to spread butter on our toast! During the official dinner we had the chance to sample rice wine, and we also began to practice some Chinese words which may be useful with our umpiring. These include Woo Mee (5 metres), Zo (Play), and Mayo (nothing).
Our two weeks in Beijing was an amazing experience. We were given a chance to umpire hockey in a completely different environment to the one that we are used to, forcing us to step out of our comfort zone. It was an experience that will definitely benefit for our future performances, something which will hopefully be on show at the upcoming TriFinance EuroHockey Championship this summer.
We hope that we managed to present a high level of decision making that enriched the tournament and helped organisers to raise the level of the event. We would like to thank the Chinese Hockey Association for inviting us, and looking after us so well.
Dan Barstow and Marcin Grochal
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