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Make the AFL a safer place for everyone

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Expert
16th June, 2019
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1290 Reads

On a scale of enjoyable to incredibly uncomfortable, how was the atmosphere at Marvel Stadium for Round 13’s clash between Carlton and the Western Bulldogs?

On the field, a thriller.

The three-point nail biter between the two sides was full of emotion right to the final siren.

Off it, also a thriller… Leaving fans on the edge of their seats in fear and uncertainty of if and when they’d be kicked out by the behavioural officials for saying the wrong thing.

By all reports it was awkward, leaving fans feeling intimidated as extra security paced up and down the aisles.

Here’s the thing.

Having extra security at the game, or on standby shouldn’t be a bad thing.

If it ensures the comfort and safety of those going to the game then how is that a negative?

Given the recent spike in post game flare-ups, extra security should be on hand to assist.

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The problem is that a push and shove did break out at the game and there wasn’t a security guard or policeman in sight “until the very end”, according to witness Chris Kaias.

This was the AFL Members fight after the siren Tom Browne was talking about. Ironically security were nowhere near it until near the end… #AFLBluesDogs pic.twitter.com/MT5xqloaadandmdash; Chris Kaias (atChrisKaias) June 15, 2019

And there’s your problem.

Once again, the AFL begins with the right intention and then totally miss the mark.

The “fan foul language watch” has recently been enforced to protect umpires from enduring a barrage of abuse week in and week out.

It started at Saturday night’s game, with countless Behavioural Awareness Officers pacing through the aisles, monitoring the crowd and ejecting any fans whose language they didn’t like.

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Uncomfortable? Intimidating? Awkward?

All of the above.

On Sunday Marvel Stadium CEO Michael Green acknowledged that they have “gone too far” with the behaviour awareness officers and it will be “something [they’ll] review”.

Glad that’s something we can agree on, but it doesn’t take away the main problem the AFL was trying to prevent in the first place.

Let’s make one thing clear.

Just because there’s a disagreement over the current “solution” (ejecting fans with foul language from the ground), doesn’t make the actions of individuals and the “problem” right.

If you or I went to work everyday and were abused to no end for every mistake made, we’d resign within a week.

But behavioural patrol at games to the point where paying patrons cannot go and enjoy themselves?

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That is extreme.

Carlton Blues fans celebrate a goal.

Carlton Blues fans celebrate a goal. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

But fans thinking they cannot enjoy a game of football without throwing abuse left right and centre is also extreme.

My other question is why is this limited to umpires alone?

By enforcing these practices at games, does that mean those patrons who abuse players will also be escorted from the ground?

Every time a player is called a “spud” or “useless” or something more colourful, will the abuser be held accountable?

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I’d love to know the answer because I could easily pick up 5-10 people a quarter who could be pushed out for that.

Because if the rules only apply to umpire abuse, then essentially the AFL is telling us they don’t really care for the mental health of their players, just the men in yellow.

And then, by intimidating fans out of umpire abuse, you’re also sending the message that you don’t care about the fans’ mental health either.

The lines are very blurred, as they so often are with the AFL.

You are never going to be able to control people’s actions: at the football, at any sporting event or in life itself.

It’s impossible.

Only we can be responsible for our own actions.

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But now the AFL has to be responsible for theirs.

Two things can be done to lessen umpire abuse – which has been its focus through this entire exercise – and improve its quality.

The first: full time umpires.

Umpiring is not a full time job even in the top level but it should be.

This is the hardest job in the competition yet there isn’t enough time dedicated to practice.

It’s baffling.

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.

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

Almost as baffling as the string of new rules that introduced every year in an attempt to make the game “better” when in reality it’s just making everyone less across what can and can’t be done and more angry.

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Some of the rules are so ridiculous and unnecessary, it’s just another thing umpires have to look out for.

It means they often miss the obvious and pay the questionable that they’ve spent so long overthinking.

If only they had more time practice, to nail these and were full time employees.

And now we are back to the initial argument.

Whatever the AFL decides to do, this cannot be the solution.

Making more people feel uncomfortable at the football by enforcing rules that are supposed to eliminate that exact thing isn’t ideal.

No one’s mental health or well being is more important that the other and the AFL needs to project these messages through education and not intimidation.

It needs to stop being a game of alienation, of us against them.

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Fans, officiating bodies, players, coaches and clubs need to unite and work together to make the AFL experience better for everyone involved.

A safer place for all.