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The AFL needs to fix the holding the ball rule

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23rd July, 2020

The current holding the ball rule has shown that the AFL needs to stop changing the interpretation of rules.

Umpires, players, commentators and fans alike are currently confused as to what the rule is regarding holding the ball.

After Alastair Clarkson complained in Round 4 that there weren’t enough free kicks from tackles, holding the ball decisions increased by 51.7 per cent in Round 5, according to Fox Footy.

“We had 69 tackles; I don’t think we had a free-kick from a tackle,” he said. “Sixty-nine tackles and not one of them could be adjudicated holding the ball.

Alastair Clarkson

Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson. (Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)

“It’s like what’s happened to our game? You can’t have that many tackles and not one of them be incorrect disposal.”

After Clarkson’s comments, the AFL then advised clubs that a stricter interpretation of the rule was going to be used going forward.

The confusion in the new interpretation allows holding the ball to be paid even if a player has no prior opportunity, a real issue with the new interpretation of the rule. It has been the subject to criticism from past players and fans watching from home who are frustrated with how the rule is being paid.


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Consistency is the key with any rule change, something the AFL sometimes has difficulty with and umpires have had an even harder time with. There have been several tackles laid where holding the ball should’ve been paid and several where it shouldn’t have been paid and hasn’t, which shows the rule isn’t consistent and is proving hard for umpires to control.

The new interpretation of holding the ball is punishing ball winners, with some players just getting the ball before being pinged for holding the ball, which goes against the flow of the game, which is aimed at rewarding ball winners.

St Kilda coach Brett Ratten said something similar when he spoke after the Saints’ 23-point win over the Crows in Round 7, saying that while his team would adjust to the holding the ball rule quickly if the rule gets tougher and the umpires are on the lookout for it.

“That’s not how we want to play the game. It’s a fine line and you have to be given some chance to get rid of it,” he said.


“We have to be careful that we haven’t got players just sitting there waiting to tackle players. That’s not how we want to play the game.”

As Ratten pointed out, the interpretation is hard to understand right now for all involved. It needs to be improved.

The new interpretation needs to be consistent and not paid as harshly as it is now to allow ball winners to win the ball and move it forward.