The match review officer is a thankless task, and I believe Michael Christian has done the best job possible with the information he has had available to him, but it desperately needs reviewing.
The AFL has started to take mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI, otherwise known as concussion) extremely seriously with the timely diagnosis of the late, great Graham Farmer.
As a result of this, running past the ball and electing to bump has become an offence worthy of suspensions varying from a fine to a month-long suspension.
The reason I say the AFL needs reform is too often are some players punished disproportionately (such as Dylan Shiel in Round 6 2020) when compared with players guilty of similar offences (such as Brad Ebert and Gary Rohan both from Round 6 2020).
If the AFL wants us to believe that they’re taking the concussion risk in the AFL seriously, they need to bring a degree of consistency to their decision-making process, and be willing to appeal poor decisions about small suspensions or no suspensions at all to the tribunal.
You might ask whether I am just complaining about this as an Essendon supporter because Shiel copped two weeks. You better believe it. But I agree with the thrust of the suspension, and with the amount.
The pertinent issue is the inconsistency, and my solutions will ameliorate these concerns for the AFL and improve the duty of care that the match review officer has to the AFL and the players, who constantly expose themselves to an extreme amount of risk.
1. Re-introduce the match review panel
Having a single MRO was supposed to promote consistency but that clearly has not been happening when players like Shiel go down for two weeks and Brad Ebert for a more severe action gets one week.
Whatever the cause, Michael Christian has shown an inability to get to every single instance, and unless there is consistency of punishment there will be no change in behaviour and thus the AFL will remain exposed to the longer term risks of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
My solution is to reintroduce the panel for deciding on suspensions. My reasoning is that a nine-match round is information overload for a single individual and thus offences like the aforementioned Gary Rohan bumps will go missed.
The function of this panel would be that each officer is allocated games to watch during the weekend, and any instance of a major bump or offence that violates the rules should be noted down and viewed collectively on a Sunday evening before a punishment is handed down on Monday morning, and any appeals occur on Tuesday.
The other issue is the over-reliance on the front-line umpires to report.
2. Increase the minimum sentence for electing to bump instead of tackling
Too often the AFL over-accounts for the consequences of a given action. We’ve seen it this year with the Shaun Burgoyne sling tackle on Patrick Dangerfield. I know Burgoyne has been an exemplary player for Hawthorn, but the only thing that protected Dangerfield from concussion is sheer luck.
I’m not going to re-litigate every single offence that has occurred at the tribunal this year (though that is tempting), but the Burgoyne example is emblematic of the problems the AFL is experiencing.
As a result the AFL should increase the punishment to two weeks (like what Shiel got) and ramp it up should any exacerbating factors occur (like the Ben Long situation). With action-based punishment guidelines, it discourages the action that is at issue and will fulfill the duty of care the AFL has to their players and hopefully filter through to the lower competitions.
I understand the dissatisfaction with Michael Christian from Essendon supporters. I understand that it is infuriating and that this punishment now forms a pattern of discriminatory treatment towards Essendon players.
However, the safety of the players is paramount here, and that is the biggest failing of the match review officer. With such inconsistent punishment it gives the impression that players can get away with abhorrent actions.