The AFL's New Rules Are A Joke And Only The Fans Can Fix Them
The AFL has ignored the kicks and screams of fans over the outrageous $4.50 price tag spoiling the humble meat pie at the footy.
In much the same way it seems the collective groans from the game’s most important stakeholders are again being muted as the constant rule changing and murky interpretations erode the sport’s foundations in front of our eyes.
Six games into the 2019 season and I can’t recall hostility quite like the fury aimed at state of umpiring in the sport’s elite competition. And I think it’s pretty reasonable to suggest the outcry is warranted because confusion reigns supreme.
We’ve got players and coaches, past and present, shaking their heads at the current state of play. St Kilda champ Nick Riewoldt has described the intermittent whistle-blowing and inconsistencies as a “lottery.”
Patrick Dangerfield, watching on from home preparing for his own match, felt the need to publicly vent his frustrations over a contact below the knee ruling and how it goes against everything players are taught as young budding footballers. Alastair Clarkson, arguably the best coach in recent times, has begged the AFL for more clarity on a range of rule changes.
All of the above is just a tiny sample size of the anger, frustration and confusion coming from their fellow experts, critics and, especially, the wider footy-loving public.
As the footy-loving public, who’ve been filling the AFL’s coffers for years and continue to show up in spite of the game’s inadequacies, we’ve got a lot to add. No one consumes and digests the game more than us. No one follows our teams as closely as us. No one celebrates the wins or feels the losses like us. We’ve got as much invested in the game as the players, coaches and administrators.
What’s wrong with the AFL reaching out and asking us about the current state of play and help pave the way forward?
Because, right now, what we’ve got is a constant cycle of rule changes and mystifying interpretations of some old ones, year upon year, that no matter how thrilling the last season or finals series was, are blurring the lines between the game we know and some over-officiated skeleton of the game we knew.
We’ve got players, mid-play, mid-contest, grinding to a halt anticipating a whistle and free-kick only to be met by the sounds of a stunned crowd, equally bemused commentators and the call of “play on!”
We’ve got players now penalised due to a “crackdown” for a bit of push and shove, minor argy bargy that in the past was brushed off as spirited byplay and combativeness expected in a game of Australian Rules football. The kind of physicality this beautiful sport was built on.
We’ve also got umpires piling on harsh 100m penalties because players aren’t running away from the ball quick enough.Talk about going against everything players are taught as youngsters.
Every week the fallout is the same and, to be honest, becoming monotonous and boring, and actually quite embarrassing.
The papers fill the sports pages with a rundown of the round’s most contentious decisions; every Tom, Dick and Harry has a go forming opinions and analysis; talkback radio is flooded with disgruntled punters; then the nightly footy shows weigh in. Most, if not all, have either their arms in the air or fingers pointed firmly at the umpires. I can’t help but think the other codes are pointing and laughing at all the in-fighting.
What’s most concerning is the AFL’s deafening silence on the matter either as a sign of guilt or as a sign of how much they’re enjoying the publicity -- my money is on the latter.
How long do we have to put up with this merry-go-round? Are we all supposed to just sit on our hands while our “professional” competition and everything we love about the game is picked apart and lost to some poor decisions?
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No, not the decisions made in the moment by the umps, because they shouldn’t be the ones copping the brunt of the blame. They, after all, have the toughest job in the industry. I’m talking about the decisions made in the offseason by the AFL’s big wigs.
The AFL will argue the evenness of the competition suggests the rule changes are doing some good, but there doesn’t always have to be smoke when something’s ablaze.
In the aftermath of (arguably) the most highly-contentious game in recent memory -- Thursday’s Anzac Day fixture between Collingwood and Essendon -- senior umpire Shaun Ryan, a veteran umpire of some 300 games, felt compelled to go on record and clear the air around a string of controversial frees still marring the Pies’ three-point win. It was the inaction and radio silence from AFL House that prompted the senior official to act and which has reportedly put the umpires at odds with the league’s bosses. If the AFL isn’t even coming to the aid of their umpires, what hope do we in the outer have?
And as long as the AFL’s decision-makers continue to mute the collective groans, we’ll continue down this bumpy road.
But, much in the same way food prices shouldn’t require a loan to afford, confusion doesn’t need to reign when it comes to the current state of umpiring and rule interpretations.
The AFL needs to swallow its pride, eat humble pie and just, for once, listen to the fans.