The AFL has done it again, with furore erupting over rules, interpretation and application.
It’s quite amazing that almost everything the AFL do has the opposite effect to what is intended. Perhaps it’s because most of the things they introduce are done on the fly, sometimes only days or weeks before the season starts, and/or after minimal/zero testing at lower levels.
Australia being the nanny state that it is, perhaps it is no surprise that our true national code must be among the most over-officiated of sports in the world. The amount of rules the AFL has in place is disgustingly over-the-top, and only makes it harder for the face of those rules – the umpires.
Of course, the big issue of the week is umpire respect, and the ‘hands out’ ruling.
It started with Harris Andrews on Thursday night, which was embarrassing enough, but only became worse over the course of the weekend as many similar or more aggressive actions were ignored. What makes fans even angrier is when the umpires do randomly pluck one out again, such as in Hawthorn’s defeat against Geelong.
You won’t find anyone that disagrees with the idea of respecting officialdom on an AFL field. What we see in tennis is terrible. Some of what they get away with in soccer is not much better.
Could the amount of dissent towards umpires on an AFL field be reined in? Perhaps. Was putting some more rigour around these interactions, or at least calling it out, appropriate? Maybe.
But, as ever, it has gone too far too quickly. Fans have a keen sense of what is just and what isn’t, and the uproar has been justified.
Then we get the ‘think of the children’ brigade.
I’m a parent of a junior footballer. And I can tell you right now that if he does anything untoward an umpire in a game of football, that is on me. Certainly more so than it is on Harris Andrews, George Hewett or Tom Mitchell. And that will be true whether my child is 10, 12, 14 or 16. Then, in the transition to adulthood, we see the move toward personal responsibility.
The biggest problem with so many rules in the AFL is that they never all get called. If they were, there’d be 150 free kicks a game, which is untenable.
It is when some free kicks get paid and others don’t for the same or similar actions, that drive players, fans and commentators crazy.
It should be blindingly obvious to everyone that the fewer rules there are, the fewer interpretations of said rules, and therefore the less room for error. Right now, the umpires have no hope. It’s impossible for them to be consistent, and some rules get loosened over time, which leads to the even more embarrassing ‘rule of the week’ situation when a series of free kicks for a particular infringement gets paid in the first game of the week out of nowhere.
Almost all fans prefer a minimalist interpretation of the rules. If plenty of them get missed, that’s okay, because the game keeps moving, and no-one has time to worry about free kicks that weren’t paid. But when too many get paid, some of which are marginally there or not at all, the frustration of everyone rises, and anger follows.
So by trying to create a situation of respecting umpires more, they have now become the target of more serious heat than at any time in recent memory.
Of course, the funniest reaction to all of this was from Chris Scott, backing up the AFL as he always does. It was particularly humorous given Tom Hawkins has been the subject of multiple controversial decisions this year, that have all gone the Cats’ way.
Scott also happens to be the twin brother of the bloke at AFL House that brought in the dissent rule. Oh yes, and the head of football before Brad Scott was Steve Hocking – former Geelong player and administrator and current CEO, who took a gig at the AFL in between his lifelong devotion to the Cats.
Perhaps one day the AFL will pass a conflict-of-interest rule? We won’t hold our breath.