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The Roar


What ever happened to interpretation?

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Roar Guru
4th August, 2020

I like that umpires are trying to pay more holding the ball decisions. Well, kinda.

Unfortunately, often what they’re penalising is some monstrous misinterpretation of the “holding the ball” rule that has no context, no logic and no verisimilitude.

Here’s an example from the Collingwood-Fremantle clash:

1. The ball is kicked out from the centre.
2. Collingwood’s Brayden Sier attacks it. Fremantle’s Tobe Watson holds onto him and drags him by one arm during the whole contest.
3. Sier gathers the ball with his free hand
4. Immediately, David Mundy and a Fremantle teammate close on Sier and tackle him front on.
5. Watson tackles Sier from behind.
6. The three Fremantle players are locked around Sier and tumble to the ground.
7. Sier is penalised for holding the ball.

What the hell?

AFL umpire Shane McInerney

AFL umpire Shane McInerney (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Surely “holding the ball” is only applicable in the following circumstances:

If a player physically can dispose of the ball, but chooses not to;
Or disposes of the ball illegally, e.g. by dropping it or throwing it;
Or holds onto the ball a long time without attempting to dispose of it.

Not one of these criteria apply to Sier. Even if Watson wasn’t already holding him, the two Fremantle players close on him from front-on, making any disposal, or attempt at a disposal, impossible.


Sadly, we’re now seeing a lot of decisions like this now being paid. However well-intentioned, the rule is being bastardised into an absolute that is patently unfair, and definitely not in the spirit of the game.

This has already happened before with another rule – penalising players for diving on the ball, dragging it in, and not making a genuine attempt to get it out.

Okay. That’s fair enough.

But there are occasions a player will have opposition piled on him. Physically, it’s impossible for him to:
a. clear the ball;
b. make a physical attempt to try to clear it, and;
c. move.

What’s expected of the player then? To defy physics, lift three hundred kilograms of weight piled on top of him, and palm the ball clear?

In attempting to go harder on rules, we simplify them until they’re lobotomised.

Look at ‘deliberate’ as another example.

From Sunday’s game Jamie Elliott tried to soccer the ball clear while slipping backward. The ball went about 20 metres forward and rolled out.


Was Elliott’s intention to find the boundary line? Doubtful.

Was Elliott’s intention to clear the ball from congestion and drive the contest further afield? Likely.

It was paid ‘deliberate’.

And we see this with so many deliberates.

The umpires will not take into account any other circumstances.


Was the player just trying to clear it from a dangerous situation with no mindfulness of the boundary line? Were they just trying to gain meterage? Did the ball unexpectedly bounce and spin out?

And here’s the answer: who cares?

Anything that is kicked and ends up going over the boundary line when teammates aren’t present will be deemed deliberate.

That’s the attitude nowadays.

It’s frustrating watching games.

We’ll excuse the umpires and lament their job is hard and thankless, while the bigger problem is ignored: interpretation.

Does it even matter anymore?