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The real problem with the goal review system

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Roar Rookie
23rd April, 2019

The goal review system has been one of the most disputed and debated topics in the AFL since its introduction.

Its reputation is not helped by instances such as the ones marring the Easter Thursday clash.

Hopefully they’re one-off mistakes, and the AFL and the football public can acknowledge they were the wrong decisions then learn from it and move on.

But my biggest frustration with the system is empowering goal umpires to make a decision even when they are in doubt.

The goal review system eliminates the benefit of the doubt going to the behind.

I hold a firm belief that unless the umpire is certain it is a goal, they go with the lesser score. Just like in cricket, if there is doubt surrounding a dismissal, the batsman is given not out.

Yet this system requires the umpire to make a decision, and they must word it according to a script dictated by the AFL: “I believe it is a goal/behind, I’d like to check to see if…”

An AFL umpire calls for a goal review.

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

This is ridiculous, though.


How many times do we see vision of a touched ball on the line and it is impossible to tell whether it is touched in front of or over the line?

Junior goal umpires are taught to award a goal only if the ball is clearly over the line.

Yet there are so many instances of the ball being touched right on the line where it is truly impossible to tell, and the goal umpire stands up and says “I believe it is a goal”.

And of course the goal review is going to come back inconclusive and the outcome is umpires call: goal.

This is exactly the same as the soft dismissal for cricket umpires for a disputed catch in the field.

There is no way that an umpire at square leg or the crease can see whether a point fieldsman caught the ball a millimetre above the grass or not.

Yet so often the soft dismissal is out.

Surely the umpire can say: “I couldn’t really tell, so give him not out unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”


So what should we do in the AFL?

When the umpire isn’t sure, we should accept and embrace that. In that case, let’s go to the box – and unless there’s clear evidence to support it being a goal, we award a behind.

We currently have four categories: certain goal, certain behind, believe it’s a goal but would like to check, believe it’s a behind but would like to check.

We would be better served if we had these five categories instead: certain goal, certain behind, pretty certain it’s a goal, pretty certain it’s a behind, not sure so it’s a behind.

If this was the case, we wouldn’t have goals resulting from instances where the goal umpire is only 55 per cent sure.


The umpire would say they are unsure, and unless it is conclusively proven to be a goal, we would get the right result for footy.

This sounds easy in theory, but it would require the umpiring department to not knock down their umpires for being unsure – because if they mark down the goal umpires for not being certain, it will discourage the umpires from going with the behind.

This empowering of goal umpires needs to stop.

We want them to back themselves when they are confident, but we have lost the concept of paying the lesser score when in doubt.

This is not a necessary condition of the goal review system and it can be very easily corrected.

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