The Roar
The Roar


When is a rule not a rule?

Will Jack Watts form a viable union with Port Adelaide Power? (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
17th December, 2015
1583 Reads

Thank God that finally the AFL is taking action on the rules of the game.

If there’s one thing that has bedevilled the great sport of Australian rules football it is administrators being too slow to move to fix the flaws in our game. Possibly the only bigger problem is administrators who are too quick to tamper with the rules.

That’s why it’s such a relief that the AFL Commission has approved a number of commonsense rule changes for the upcoming season, while also obviously at the same time being a cause for great distress that they are changing the rules, which were fine as they were.

That’s the conundrum of the committed diehard footy fan. You know, instinctively, that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, and needs changes to return it to its glory days, but you also know that the game is being ruined by constant rule changes.

And furthermore, you know that the only way to fix the rule changes that ruined the game is to change the rules again, which will ruin it more, which will necessitate further rule changes.

Thinking deeply on the issue is likely to lead to irreversible madness, which is how Brian Taylor happened.

But, after all, we are all on the same side. We all want the great game of Aussie rules to grow and flourish and move confidently into the future and also remain stuck in the past and expand its status as a truly national sport while simultaneously returning to its suburban roots and innovating to face the challenges ahead despite the fact that everything’s fine the way it is.

That’s all we want. So in that spirit let’s look at these new rule changes and work out why they’re stupid.

Increased protective zone for players taking marks
This seems eminently sensible. If you’ve taken a mark or have been awarded a free kick, you have earned the right to take your kick without buzzards hovering around trying to harass you and put you off your game.


Extending the allowable distance around the player would seem to be an ideal way to open the game up, or speed the game up, or whatever this rule is supposed to achieve.

And yet, is not football a contact sport? And are we not constantly fighting against the trend towards less contact? That’s certainly the impression I get from the incoherent mumbling of callers to sports talkback shows.

So rather than forcing players to stay further away from their opponents, why not force them to get closer? Make the maximum allowable distance between a player who has taken a mark and his opponent one metre. If the defender moves further than one metre away, it’s an automatic 50-metre penalty.

Alternatively, a mark, instead of being the trigger for a player to go back to take the kick or play on, could signal a short one-on-one wrestling match, with the winner to be given the ball.

Stricter interpretation of deliberate out-of-bounds
This could be a revolutionary change in the game, if by “stricter interpretation” the AFL means “this rule will now exist throughout the entirety of each match, and not just for the few seconds every three weeks when a player kicks a ball 50 metres and an umpire makes a snap decision to baffle everyone watching”.

Imagine a game where players who deliberately take the ball out of bounds are actually penalised for deliberately taking the ball out of bounds, rather than the kindly avuncular attitude umpires currently take.

Whereby, a deliberate out of bounds play is forgiven if the player would have found it difficult to give the ball to a teammate, or if the player makes a reasonable attempt to pretend he’s actually suffered a sudden loss of all motor skills and couldn’t help it.

Or if the player looks like he would have made a reasonable attempt if he had had time to think about it, or if the player makes an unreasonable attempt but has a kindly face, or if the player has been having a hard time at school lately and could do with a bit of good news.


Or if the umpire is scared the player is going to beat him up.

We might be entering a golden age of AFL footballers trying to keep the ball in play – or at least not actively working against that goal.

Of course it’s entirely possible that “stricter interpretation” means “in Round 1 we’ll pay maybe two or three frees for it and then it’ll sort of slip our minds”.

Stricter adjudication of dangerous tackles
It is very important to protect the safety of footballers. Although obviously we don’t want the game to become soft. Or maybe it’s players’ skulls we don’t want to become soft.

In any case, the AFL has of late become intent on eradicating head injuries from the game, through a balanced policy whereby severe penalties are introduced for dangerous tackles, but not actually applied, so everyone is happy.

We can therefore look forward to some harsh suspensions for players found guilty of lifting or slinging tackles, followed by commentators claiming the new rules are ruining the game, which used to be for men, goddammit.

Followed by some extremely light-to-non-existent suspensions for other players found guilty, followed by commentators claiming the failure to enforce the rules is ruining the game, which will wither and die if parents believe their kids are in danger, goddammit.

Followed by another harsh suspension, another light suspension, a player not even getting charged, and commentators demanding the tribunal demonstrate some goddamn consistency.


Fortunately, the only potentially negative consequence of getting this element of the rules wrong is life-destroying brain damage, which is really none of our business.

Another exciting thing about this year is that at some point the phrase “the bump is dead” will be uttered for the 10,000th time, an event to be marked by the unveiling of a statue of Dermott Brereton dyeing his hair.

Yes, 2016 is going to be a huge season for the destruction and/or salvation of the game via rule changes, and though it’s only December, I already can’t wait to see just how much more entertaining/tedious the AFL is.