AFL’s Match Review Panel in state of disrepair
Is the AFL Match Review Panel helping or hurting the game? (Image: Slattery)
There are only three AFL matches left in 2012, so the time for post-season reflection is near. Without question, the most pressing issue of concern is the tribunal system.
No longer can players, clubs and supporters be subject to the glaring inconsistencies of Match Review Panel verdicts.
No longer can the AFL afford to be held up for ridicule as their judicial system breaks down week after week in a storm of chaos and confusion.
No longer can Andrew Demetriou and Adrian Anderson stand idly by and refuse to take action as the whisper of discontent becomes a roar.
It’s now become a running joke for ex-players, educated football minds and talk show panellists to offer their opinion on incidents to be assessed, then adding the disclaimer, ‘but who knows what the MRP will do’.
The theory behind the current system was sound enough. Allocating points based on a set of fixed parameters seemed simple. Rewarding players with a good record. Punishing repeat offenders. Reduced points for a guilty plea.
But the rigidity of the system has now become the noose upon which all in football are choking on each week. To put it simply, justice is not being served.
Incidental off-the-ball bumps, barely worthy of a free kick, have players missing matches simply because they may have committed some equally minor infraction four years earlier and the ‘victim’ takes five seconds to get up.
A player in the midst of a high intensity match will approach a contest at full steam, which is exactly what we supporters demand of every single one of them.
But if he arrives a split-second late, makes a simple error in judgement, or even turns to protect himself in the wrong way, he’ll be watching the next few matches on the sidelines.
The tribunal system, ostensibly there to punish acts of thuggery, brutish behaviour or genuinely dangerous malfeasance, has become almost bloodthirsty in its ambition to punish trivial misdemeanours. To steal a line from my favourite show, The West Wing, they now dole out five thousand dollars worth of punishment for a fifty-buck crime.
Jack Ziebell’s clash with Aaron Joseph and resulting four match suspension was arguably the most celebrated case heard this year.
It divided opinion between the majority who like their football real and hard, and the minority who have sipped too often of the AFL’s Kool-Aid and believe that every injury must see blame attributed to an opposing player.
Both arrived to the ball at the exact same time, but Ziebell’s oh-so-heinous crime was to arrive to the contest with more momentum and jump to try and win it. There was no doubt about Joseph’s courage to put himself in the danger zone, but the reason we applaud such bravery is because it often comes at a cost.
As football watchers, we relish in this cost, because we know we’re watching a sport that taxes physically and mentally over and over again, and players are willing to pay Allan Jeans’ famous ‘price’.
Ziebell’s next crime was to contest the three weeks he was initially lumped with, and within that, the seeds of a broken system are sown. He was either going to get off and play the next week, or be found guilty and miss four.
Why must all nuance be removed from these incidents? While the collision, like almost all that get adjudicated on, found people taking both sides, all were agreed that a four week penalty was too harsh, even taking into account errant past behaviour.
Last week we saw Quentin Lynch offered a one-week suspension for charging Scott McMahon in the Subiaco elimination final.
What most saw as a legitimate attempt to mark or spoil the ball at best, and at worst simply making the defender ‘earn’ the mark as most forwards have done for a hundred years, MRP chairman Mark Fraser thought it was an attempt by Lynch to break McMahon’s back, Bane-on-Batman style.
After the calculations were done, it was determined that the West Coast veteran was going to miss a week whether he challenged it or not, so he was able to make his case, successfully as it turned out, with only extra points as the deterrent.
If he was risking a two match ban instead of taking the one, under no circumstances would he or the Eagles brains trust have challenged yet, as we now know, he was in fact an innocent man.
After the Ziebell result, it is more and more unlikely that any clubs will challenge if a guilty verdict means more matches missed. Again, this means the system is broken.
The MRP, while attempting to become a time-saving and cost-cutting exercise, has become obsessed with ‘fifty buck crimes’, scares the innocent into pleading guilty, and offers no justice for the participants.
It’s a mess that needs cleaning, and immediately so.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for in his mind there is nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.
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