Every level of Australian football has a send-off rule bar one – the AFL. The question is why?
It makes no sense at all that the peak league in the sport is the only one that does not allow umpires the option to send players from the field for blatant and wilful acts of violence.
Surely, if any umpires are sufficiently equipped to make the correct call with regard to send-offs it is those in the AFL.
Last week Gold Coast’s Steven May was suspended for five weeks for a sickening charge on Brisbane’s Stefan Martin late in the second quarter at the Gabba.
Rather than determining a sanction, the Match Review Panel sent May directly to the AFL tribunal for its consideration.
At the hearing, May pleaded guilty.
The incident itself was ugly – May ran the past the ball, left the ground and hit Martin in the head with his shoulder with a force that was adjudged severe by the tribunal.
The Lions’ ruckman was immediately rendered unconscious and taken from the field on a stretcher, unable to return to the field after half-time.
The match day officials reported May at the time of the incident.
It was all the umpires could do with the exception of issuing a free-kick and a 50-metre penalty.
Had there been a send-off rule in place, May could well have been given his marching orders.
I doubt had such an option been available and invoked many would have complained.
Nowadays we hear ad nauseum about teams being under the pump due to a reduced interchange bench which affects rotations and the ability of a team to properly rest its players.
Injury is part and parcel of the sport, given its sheer physical nature.
The vast majority occur as a result of incidental contact within the natural playing of the game.
There are others that do not as they are the result of acts that are committed outside the both the laws and spirit of the game.
However, no matter the level of intent and damage rendered to an opponent the match day punishment can never exceed a free-kick and 50-metre penalty.
In some circumstances – and they are thankfully remote in nature – such a scant penalty is in no way commensurate with the crime.
What if May’s actions were to occur in the opening minutes of a grand final, or worse still, another player was similarly ruled out of the game as a result of a similar incident?
One of the more blatant acts of disrepute in recent times on an AFL field was the felling of West Coast’s Brent Staker by Sydney’s Barry Hall at the SCG in 2008.
Many metres off the ball, Hall simply punched Staker in the jaw.
Staker’s eyes rolled back in his head and he was out cold before he even hit the ground.
Hall was suspended for seven weeks as a result of his blatant strike on an unwitting opponent.
Bizarrely, the suspension mattered little to Hall and Sydney for later in the same game the full-forward broke his wrist on a metal railing on the fence behind a soft advertising board.
Incidents like Hall’s result in no significant penalty on the day while the team on which it is perpetrated loses a player for the remainder of the match as the result of a calculated act.
Many will argue that the introduction of a send-off rule in the AFL would result in mass ejections.
Anecdotal evidence would show that to be a totally erroneous theory.
I have commentated WAFL games weekly since the league adopted the send-off rule in 1993.
I have witnessed firsthand it being invoked twice in that entire period, the last time being over 18 years ago.
So, in the past 450-odd WAFL games I have commentated I have not seen the send-off rule used at all.
Its introduction into the WAFL has hardly resulted in a flurry of send-offs.
But, importantly, the rule is there and available to the umpires should they deem a malicious act warrants its application.
The rugby codes and soccer, along with many other team sports, have a send-off rule enshrined through all levels of their sport.
It is time the AFL did likewise.
I am not aware of any other code that allows for a send-off rule in all levels other than the highest in its sport.
Being sent from the ground and barred from returning for malicious acts at least provides some offset to the team that has lost a player as a result of a violent act.
Whilst it would seldom be applied it should nonetheless be part of an AFL umpire’s options when dealing with untoward violence on the field.
When all said and done, AFL umpires are more highly trained than their counterparts in lower grades.
Surely, they can be entrusted with the responsibility of applying a send-off rule.