AFL video reviews need a rethink
Lance Franklin celebrates a goal in Hawthorn's 2011 final against Geelong (Slattery Images)
There was always going to be a portion of the AFL community voicing their discontent with the introduction of the video review system this year. But few could have predicted those murmurs would turn into a roar by round 16.
I’ve long been an advocate for the introduction of this ‘technology’, if we can call it that. Earlier in the season I was all for it.
“A break of no more than a minute is a reasonable price for justice,” I wrote way back in February. And I still believe it.
However, that was under the assumption that these replays would be scarcely used – reserved for those contentious goal-line calls, short enough not to interrupt the flow of the game but just long enough to form a sense of intrigue.
Nearly five months on, what we have instead is a video review system that is more legislated emasculation – more an immature, undeveloped idea – than an actual benefit to the game.
This past weekend was, for me, the straw that broke the camel’s back.
To call this system ‘technology’ is to refer to a 98-page lined exercise book as an iPad.
The cameras and footage used are not good enough to prove anything, one way or another, for the majority of the time. When they are, sometimes it’s not even looked at.
Let’s be clear – this was never going to eliminate all goal umpiring errors.
In the words of Adrian Anderson, it is there to “assist where there is some doubt as to the correct decision following a scoring attempt. (T)he aim is to improve decision-making where possible.” And it already has.
But those last two words were ‘where possible’. Not ‘at every possible opportunity’. And certainly not for so long.
Now every video review is ushered in with an accompanying groan from the audience.
Hearing an umpire justify sending a decision upstairs by saying they ‘just want to be sure’ when one of them is already certain really grinds my gears. It’s exactly what happened in cricket with the DRS – it becomes a mental crutch.
The video review system is there to assist, not to replace an umpire or to take power away from them.
If a goal umpire believes that a goal should be awarded, yet a boundary umpire 20 metres away has an inkling that the ball may have brushed past an opponent – and the goal umpire cannot be disproved with vision – then by what measure is it fair to assume the goal umpire is wrong?
For an example of this, look at the James Magner call. What message does this send to goal umpires, that their ability is lesser than that of field or boundary officials? Why are they there then?
Why on earth aren’t we going with the original goal umpire’s call in these situations?
That’s not to mention how long it takes. A target of around 40 seconds per review was mooted in pre-season. The Joel Selwood decision on Saturday night took nearly three minutes. That is unacceptable.
There’s obviously a need for some form of review system. The majority of the game’s stakeholders want to see it. It’s the implementation that is the problem.
There is, I believe, a better way. It’s a little better, anyway. And it’s here where the AFL can take a leaf out of football’s book. You don’t have to go back too far for the page either.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, that model of fairness and equity, has finally bowed to years of relentless pressure and will introduce goal-line technology to football.
There is plenty to learn from the method that has been approved, even if it can’t be emulated. Either HawkEye or magnetics will be used to determine whether or not the ball has crossed into the goalmouth, and referees will be alerted immediately via their wristwatch if it has.
That’s right – the referee and his assistants are not going to have a mini-conference and take down minutes every time one of them doubts what they have just seen unfold before their eyes.
Instead, they’re going to be informed when the ball crosses the line, in a non-obtrusive way, almost instantly.
Obviously that’s going to cost a lot of money – $250,000 per stadium. The AFL aren’t even prepared to pay for cameras installed inside the posts.
But there is still a simple, common-sense solution, that – for now – will surely reduce the to-ing and fro-ing.
I’m not exactly sure how the designated score review official spends his time when he’s not being summoned, but if he’s getting a wage, then he needs to be put to use for the entire match.
Instead of waking him up when there’s a problem like some kind of security guard, why not sit him in front of a TV and have him review every single score during the game, immediately after it happens?
Don’t make him wait for the umpires to decide if they want him to look or not. That is a waste of manpower.
This way nothing can slip through the net – like the Matthew White call last week. Even if a contentious one comes up and the men with the whistles require his input, he’d already have a head start on them.
If the vision is inconclusive, as it so often is, it would waste at least a little bit less of everyone’s time. But in my world, we back the goal umpire when nobody can say for sure that he is wrong.
The AFL’s heart is in the right place, but they’ve handled this one all wrong.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.