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Could our AFL spectating experience soon be ruined?

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Roar Guru
13th June, 2019
7

The year is 2030.

AFL players walk out onto Marvel Stadium, yellow balls juggled between their hands. Bursting through the banner, the noise meeting their entrance is minimal.

A crowd of 5,000 adorn the lifeless arena. The rest are at home, in pubs. They’re sick and tired of going, of showing their emotion and getting ejected.

It started with pointed lines of abuse at umpires, but now has spread to raising your voice, even if it is a tense finish.

Supporters aren’t allowed to support anymore – the ones attending are theatre audiences who politely clap the match’s conclusion regardless of the result.

This dystopian outlook is what the AFL eventually want the game to turn into. In the midst of apologising to Adam Goodes for unpunished racism from crowds of people, they’ve decided that it’s better to act later rather than never.

Despite umpires making mistakes every week, the control of crowds has begun to harshen. Even if it is a simple ‘Get your eyes checked’, fans are under the impression that an ounce of criticism won’t be tolerated.

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This is deeply problematic to our game.

For over a century people have attended games of footy and spent their hard-earned money on being able to vent their passion.

It’s a game so dearly loved by its supporters. Remember the days of Victoria Park and its vehemence. Of the harsh recognition opposition teams would receive at all of Victoria’s suburban grounds.

Windy Hill. Princes Park. Whitten Oval. This didn’t change when the MCG and Marvel became the hosts of all Melbourne AFL games.

If anything, the vast surrounds of the ‘G gave more fans an opportunity to flock to a venue that can hold hordes of like-minded supporters. Bonds were made over memorable moments.

Friendships were struck over dubious umpiring calls that you both disagreed with. Enemies were temporarily made and soon forgotten when two sides got heated.

Believe it or not, these come hand in hand with a community that cherishes the competition. Isn’t that what you want – that dedication?

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It’s hard to work out what the AFL want. Now that a spectator has been kicked out of a ground for walking over to the umpires and calling one a “flog”, where will our game go?

The Richmond cheer squad have asked for an official list of phrases they can use without seeing their money going towards a match they’ll hear from outside of the ground. What will be on there?

“I don’t agree with you umpire but you were probably right because you’re backed by the AFL and trying your very best?” Spare me.

Part of the AFL is that umpiring is a tough gig. It’s difficult to picture the umpires beginning this war against crowds.

Umpire Ray Chamberlain gestures during the round 18 AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the St Kilda Saints at Etihad Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.

Umpire Ray Chamberlain. (Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

They’ve forged their careers in a caper that they have always known to be notoriously thankless. They are based on performance, much like the players and any other type of job.

They’ve had far worse done to them (which I don’t agree with), but some reaction from passionate fans when they have made mistakes will serve to motivate them.

Much like it does to AFL teams who lose or make crucial errors. Footy is a high stakes game – everyone involved should know that the crowd will be honest and forthright.

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They invest their time and money, so why shouldn’t they show this emotion? Supporters can be likened to shareholders in businesses and corporations. They put in plenty of tangible and intangible objects to the AFL.

So how will the AFL make profits when crowds plummet due to these needless restrictions?

Criticism is a part of AFL. Any sport, in fact.

At games just the other round I heard kids aged under ten in the row in front of me yelling out to the umpires that they were stupid when they made a dubious decision.

They also said similar things to players when they missed targets or chose the wrong option. Is there anything wrong with that? Will they soon be kicked out?

Everyone around us laughed. They could’ve said anything that wasn’t racist, sexist or over-the-top swearing and nobody would have batted an eyelid. We all understand that footy brings out our emotions. But that’s why we love it so much – it gives us a way of getting our stresses out and also giving us pleasure.

If you don’t want people to show this emotion in a politically correct manner, then don’t bother having crowds turn up. We all want the chance to act and say what we want when at the footy.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we can go too far.

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I wholeheartedly acknowledge that if someone says something that is racist, sexist, homophobic or anything that constitutes political incorrectness then they should be removed and banned.

But if people are just offering criticism with some harsh remarks that aren’t over the top, then why is that such a bad thing? Before we know it, will we be able to cheer on our teams at all?

If the AFL keep steadily wiping out behaviours we can exhibit at the footy, then the game will lose its identity and be potentially ruined for fans forever.

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