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Just desserts: Is AFL the 'fairest' code?

While it may have been a night to forget for Tiger fans, Collingwood's Friday night clash against Richmond had one of the most thrilling finishes of the season. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
27th June, 2016
79
1546 Reads

We know AFL is the best code – but is it the fairest? There’s often talk after a game about who ‘deserved’ to win, with supporters griping about umpiring decisions, wasted chances, injuries, inaccuracy and ‘fluke’ occurrences.

The gripes are particularly loud after a shock loss, and deafening after a grand final upset.

West Coast were clearly the best side of the 1991 season, St Kilda in 1997 and 2009, Geelong in 2008. In the first two cases they just didn’t quite show up on the big day. In the third, a ‘goal’ that hit the post proved critical, in the fourth case, eleven rushed behinds forced a rule-change.

It can be a cruel game, but spare a thought for the billions of soccer fans around the world. Their game can be beautiful, but also downright sadistic.

Portugal faced Iceland in the first week of Euro 2016, currently underway. The Iberian side dominated with 66 per cent of possession and passing accuracy of an impressive 92 per cent, producing 27 shots on goal – 10 of which were on target.

The Icelanders passed at 73 per cent and managed a paltry 4 shots on goal, but all 4 were on target and one of them got past the keeper. The result? A 1-1 draw. This is just a slightly more extreme example of a fairly common phenomenon.

The Italian style is a sort of hyper-defensive rope-a-dope, allowing the opposition to keep the ball as long as they don’t get close enough to score, then waiting for the opportunity to break, surge forward and score. Once they get 1-0 up, the Azzuri are almost nauseating to watch as they coolly put up a brick wall and run down the clock.

Cricket holds the distinction of being a team sport poured through the funnel of an individual player more often than most codes. Often it is two individuals – batsmen that dig in and perform a miracle against an otherwise rampant opponent, a la Laxman and Dravid in 2001 against Australia (or Laxman and Tendulkar or Laxman and Ganguly or Laxman and the 12th man a half-dozen other times), or a bowler who produces a remarkable burst and turns the game on its head.

But this is fair, and the dramatic nature of Tests in particular is what makes cricket great theatre. It is, however, the magnified importance of individual contributions that can make cricket ‘unfair’. One poor umpiring decision can mean an extra 100 or 200 runs. When Graham Gooch made 333 against India, he commented later that the keeper had dropped “a sitter” off him on 29.

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The two rugbies come closest to our code in terms of results consistency reflecting performances. Soccer – especially European soccer – is often trench warfare, Aussie Rules like TE Lawrence’s Bedouin army waging guerrilla war, and rugby something more like the complex strategic manoeuvres of the Romans facing the Parthians.

On balance, the dominant side usually wins. However, it is possible to weather storms with strong defence and a little bit of luck, as restricted space, restricted means and methods of getting the ball forward, the offside rule and a couple of technical aspects of the game combined to limit the scope of scoring.

Fans of Aussie Rules have little to complain about. We are blessed. In our game, the better side (on the day or night) wins way more often than not, despite what we may have hoped for.