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Dissenting dissent: Why the masses are in uproar about the AFL’s controversial new rule

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James Barr new author
Roar Rookie
25th April, 2022

Imagine this: there’s one minute to go in the grand final.

Melbourne lead the Bulldogs by five points, and there’s a contest just outside the Bulldogs’ forward 50.

Marcus Bontempelli takes possession and is tackled but is given a free kick for a high tackle in a contentious call.

In the heat of the moment and with the pressure gauge at its absolute maximum, a desperate Clayton Oliver cannot believe the decision and throws his hands out in pure disbelief, as any fierce competitor in the heat of battle would.


Suddenly, a 50-metre penalty is paid for umpire dissent, and Bontempelli now has a shot on goal from 20 metres out to win the premiership for the Bulldogs.

But is that really how the AFL wants a premiership to be won or lost?

It may be easier for the AFL to tell players to make futile attempts to control their emotions in the early rounds of the season, but later in the season when the pressure is well and truly on, do they really expect players to be emotionless when a decision is paid against them?

One thing is for sure: a rule so subjective was also going to cause controversy.

Tom Mitchell of the Hawks speaks with AFL Field Umpire, Hayden Gavine after a 50 metre penalty was awarded to Geelong during the 2022 AFL Round 05 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Geelong Cats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 18, 2022 In Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

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

We are six rounds into the season and only now does it seem that the AFL is realising they need to be clearer about the interpretation of the new dissent rule.

But even then, the general consensus is that no one really knows what’s going on.

I was playing local footy on the weekend, and there were several decisions paid by the umpire for dissent, which weren’t explained to players, leaving most people on and off the ground perplexed, as well as confused as to what the rules even were.


The AFL does not have a good history of introducing subjective laws into the game.

No one wants to see a situation like the one a few years ago when the holding-the-ball rule was seemingly being changed on a week-to-week basis, while the deliberate-out-of-bounds rule also caused upheaval when the AFL chose to make it a bigger issue.

Not only is it a poor look for the game, but in the end, it has the potential to disengage some fans entirely.

What other sport in the world has a rule where you are penalised for opposing an umpire’s decision?

Ray Chamberlain

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

I’m sure there must be one, but you understand my point.

A rule so cringeworthy to watch from an outsider’s point of view cannot be good for growing the game, and from the inside, it is simply not how people want to see the game played.

AFL players are some of the most competitive athletes on the planet. Expecting them to be virtually emotionless when a decision is paid against them is ludicrous, as it directly contrasts the ‘win at all costs’ mentality held by so many within the industry.


Not only are they trying to control players’ basic human instincts, but they are also seemingly trying to implement the old, eye-rolling adage ‘as long as everyone has fun’ at the highest level.

Australian rules football is a game perpetually associated with passion and emotion, so it’s baffling to see a rule introduced that attempts to curb these aspects of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, in no way am I condoning umpire abuse (that is a separate issue and one that needs to be stamped out of the game immediately).

But showing dissent to a decision is rarely malicious, and I feel as though questioning an umpire’s decision should actually be encouraged.

Toby Greene of the Giants gives away a free kick

(Photo by Steve Bell/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Jack Riewoldt mentioned on AFL 360 that being able to converse with an umpire about a decision was something he valued, and I completely agree.

At the very minimum, a line needs to be drawn between having a conversation with an umpire about a decision and showing dissent towards a decision, or else there will be an exponential increase in the number of misinformed players and fans regarding the rules of the game.

Will the AFL simply scrap the new rule mid-season?

Of course not. The AFL is notoriously stubborn about these sorts of issues.

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However, easing the rules and only enforcing the dissent rule in more serious cases could ease tensions across the board, with umpires likely to cop less backlash from fans, and players less inclined to act against their natural instincts.

Making the umpires’ jobs easier doesn’t need to be difficult, as I feel most fans want the umpires to put the whistle away more often anyway, and simply just let the game flow without too much umpire interference.

Yet now it feels as though the umpires are more involved than ever.