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The game is known on a wider scale as a contact sport. When an outside viewer sees free kicks being paid that are contentious or of a technical nature, they get confused and frustrated.
Where did that come from? How was that a free kick? Most of the time, the questions are left unanswered due to the pace at which things escalate in the game so people are left feeling detached from the game.
As if they don’t know enough about the game to be an authentic follower. This is common among women as they are getting more interested in the game, particularly after the launch of the women’s competition last year. To support the AFLW, the game needs to continue increasing its rate of female participation. In order to do so, it must address this issue of confusion to technical free kicks.
Over recent time, the ten metres protected area rule for a player who has marked the ball has caused these questions to be repeatedly asked. It was brought in for a great reason, to stop players from “guarding [the] inside so that you can’t move the ball back inside”. Further on, St Kilda coach Alan Richardson said “It looked like it wasn’t officiated in the spirit in which it was intended to”, for one of the games he witnessed on the weekend.
Prior to St Kilda’s game against Essendon where there were none paid, he asked the umpires about the rule. They said to him that they didn’t address the rule during the week. In some cases after a round, the umpires as a whole will gather to focus and talk about a certain rule(s) and the way in which it should be interpreted.
It was confirmed on Fox Footy’s AFL 360 on Monday night through Richardson and host, Gerard Whateley that the umpires did not have a meeting as a whole to discuss the interpretation of the rule. A point that many have brought up: the interpretation of the rule by the umpires.
From the nine games of Round 16, eight free kicks were paid for ten-metre protection area infringements. The AFL’s Umpires Association admitted to two of them being paid incorrectly. Of the six that they believed were free kicks, I believed only two. As a follower of the AFL who watches between three and six games per round, I think that there’d be quite a few who believe the same.
When Brad Scott was asked whether the protected area rule was a problem, the North Melbourne coach said: “for the frustration of everyone, yes”. The frustration of the rule has clearly been widespread with Brad Scott suggesting that “It’s going to drive people nuts if something doesn’t change.”
Funnily enough, Scott said that North Melbourne halfback “Jamie MacMillan suggested that he maybe should’ve brought back a hot dog for the umpire after he’s run into the crowd to get out of the protected area”
The interpretation of the rule is where the problem lies and needs change.
It is something that the AFL Umpires Association will need to put on top of their agenda. They need to get a better understanding of how to interpret the rule and provide clarity for all stakeholders of the game. In this case, it would be wise to put their whistles away and only pay it when it is infringed as the spirit of the rule was intended.