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The Roar



Umpires are human… but players aren’t allowed to be

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Roar Rookie
5th April, 2023

The impact of ‘umpire dissent’ rules on game results is a hot topic. And rightly so. But the real question should be about the ever-increasing influence that umpires have on all aspects of matches.

It is fair and right to protect umpires from abuse. But when that starts to interfere with the spirit of the game, you have to question the logic. Do players, fans, critics respect umpires more today than they did, say, 20 years ago? I doubt it.

The ridiculous irony following a dissent call that sealed a Carlton win against GWS in Round 3 was how AFL Head of Umpiring Dan Richardson defended the controversial call by likening umpires to players who sometimes respond in the heat of the moment.

“Just like we have some players or coaches who occasionally get emotional, or become overly expressive when under pressure, we also have umpires with differing levels of temperament.”

So, players are being told to keep their mouths shut, ignore their instincts to gesticulate and basically play without human emotions, yet we’re expected to cut temperamental umpires some slack.

It’s a bit rich. And combined with the ‘stand’ rules, constant referrals to the ARC review and other so-called innovations, spectators get the sense they are watching three entities on the field. The two playing teams ‘and’ the umpires themselves who play an ever-increasing role thanks to rule changes.

So much so that we might as well start adding a third score up on the board… points directly attributed to umpire ‘calls’.

What do I mean by that? Free kicks close to goals are a match-winning decision. We know that and thankfully umpires use some discretion to avoid swaying tightly contested games, especially in the dying stages.


But in the mid-field, fewer infractions get that benefit of the doubt. That is a big problem because a 50m penalty puts long kickers well within range and/or exposes defenders setting up for a counter-punch.

Even if umpires were to show more restraint, 50m is still way too long and is being used beyond its original remit. It was introduced in 1988 when the AFL felt the 15m penalty was not enough to deter time-wasting and scragging.

Compare that to the average AFL field length of around 150m – 15m represents a tenth of the pitch length while 50m jumps to a third – and these umpire calls become game-changers. What’s more they are being applied to more and more infringements.

For the sake of players’ sanity and to keep fans from completely turning against umpires it is time to review rules that stand in the way of the game’s natural spirit. A game of passionate athletes, not programmed automatons.

And a good place for the AFL to start is with the ‘dissent’ and ‘stand’ rules in view of the 50m penalty. My bid would be to go back to 15m for dissent, time-wasting and scragging-like behaviour, 35m for more serious offences, and to scrap the 50m and overly strict stand rules altogether.

Extreme aggression against the umpire and cases of dangerous and deliberate rough play get reported to the tribunal and earn the player a stretch in the sin bin.


That punishes the whole team on the day and in future matches, setting clear boundaries without driving fans mad with frustration. What do people think?

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