When players of a professional sport claim not to understand the rules of a game they play, it is a damning blight on the AFL’s Rules of the Game committee.
On Channel Ten’s Before the Game, a program not exactly known to be a platform for asking ‘hard’ questions,, Essendon’s Brendan Goddard was asked about the contentious new sliding rule.
“Are you clear in your mind as to what you can and can’t do?” Andy Maher asked.
“No, we have no idea,” Goddard responded.
“I don’t know. Is it diving, or if you fall over is it the same?
“It’s been explained but we’re actually not sure.”
The sliding rule has been a new rule which came into the game at the beginning of the 2013 season in an attempt to protect player safety.
During the 2012 season, players sliding into contests and making contact with player’s legs resulting in sickening broken legs when players slid into contests and made knee contact from the side and front.
The following addition to the rules of the game was added for the 2013 season:
“A free kick will now be awarded against any player under existing Law 15.4.5 a (ii) Prohibited Contact, who makes forceful contact below the knees of an opponent (this does not apply to smothers with the hands or arms).
“Rule 15.4.5(a)(ii) already states a free kick can be awarded for contact below knees, and as such a rule change is not required, but rather a stricter interpretation of the current law.”
Goddard’s comments can be understood after Matthew Pavlich was awarded a free kick when an Essendon player attempted to smother his kick.
There has never been an AFL season where rule interpretation has not been a controversial issue but when players are claiming they do not know the rules, despite it being explained to them, the AFL has a problem.
While it may be easy enough for the AFL to blame the players for not understanding the rule, umpire interpretation does not align with common sense.
Factors such as impact of contact, point of contact, momentum and intention are all ambiguous and the opening three rounds have provided little, if any clarity.
For the past few years, the AFL has reiterated the notion of the head being sacrosanct and any contact will be considered high contact.
Interpretation of the ‘contact below the knees’ rule has resulted in both contact to the head, and contact below the knees.
One incident from Friday night was shown when Essendon’s Michael Hibberd and Fremantle’s Michael Barlow attacked a loose ball. Barlow kept his feet, while Hibberd slid into the contest and made contact with his head against Barlow’s knee.
The umpire awarded a free kick against Barlow for making high contact, despite being the player who stayed on his feet.
Barlow professed his confusion and a 50 metre penalty was awarded against him.
There was an identical occurrence yesterday when Hawthorn’s Luke Hodge slid head first into a contest, thus taking out the legs of Collingwood’s Harry O’Brien. A free kick was awarded to Hodge for O’Brien making head high contact.
In both Barlow and O’Brien’s cases, they kept their feet and did everything the AFL advised players to do, yet free kicks were awarded against them.
In other instances, players have been rewarded with a free kick for kneeing an opposition player in the head due to accidental contact.
Under the current interpretation of the rule, the head is deemed more important than the knees and players are encouraged to kamikaze dive head first into opposition player knees.
It is clear that confusion among players extends well beyond Goddard and the AFL needs to take note by either explaining the rule in more simple terms.
Players, umpires and fans obviously have a different understanding of the rule because confused players become dangerous players.
Whether it be the broken legs or the insurmountable concussions from sliding head first into contests, something about that doesn’t sound right.