Sunday 17 December 2017 / 07:46 AM

GIVE OUR UMPIRES A CHANCE

There is little doubt AFL football is one of the most fast-paced and exciting sports on the planet. It requires speed, skill, strength, endurance, courage and smarts, all of which combine to make it a fantastic spectacle for the fans.

However is also one of the more complicated games in the world, with a variety of different rules that can often confuse fans both knowledgeable and those less so. Often the spectacle of a great game of AFL football can be ruined by over-umpiring or various interpretations of certain rules. Debating the effects of the umpires on any game has become a favourite past-time of many a beleaguered fan.

But when the rules confuse and complicate, who is at fault? Do we lay the blame at the feet of the men with the whistle as so many do? No. I blame the AFL lawmakers who insist on over complicating a wonderful game and putting unnecessary pressure and expectations on those who have to enforce their wacky rules. Not only does the constant changing of rules and how they are interpreted make life difficult for the umpires, it makes the game all the more complex for the spectators, and more importantly the players and coaches who need to work their way around such rules to try and win a game of football and ultimately achieve premiership glory.

Not only do the AFL insist of making adjustments to or changing the rules every season, but they also seem hell bent on having a “rule of the week” or focusing on a certain interpretation from round to round, week to week. Recently it was admitted that a memo is sent to the clubs every week about what the umpires would be looking at for the upcoming round, and blame was assigned to the clubs and coaches for not reading it! These men have more important things to worry about, like the opposition for one.

Our beautiful game is complicated enough as it is and the constant rule changes and inconsistency in interpretations of the rules from one week to the next are a blight on the game. North Melbourne coach Brad Scott was recently asked on Footy Classified about a couple of contentious deliberate out of bounds calls that went against his side. His response summed up the current state of affairs perfectly – he wasn’t disappointed because he felt the umpires were basically tossing a coin on whether to call deliberate or not.

The ‘holding the ball’ rule must be the most hotly debated rule in the game, and it’s easy to see why as there is no consistency in the way it is enforced. One week a player will be penalised for incorrect disposal when being tackled, the next week the umpire will call play on citing the ball was knocked out in the tackle. Often the interpretation changes during the game, with the whistle often being put away late in a tight contest.

Once again, I don’t really blame the umpires, it’s a tough job and someone has to do it. And our game is arguably the most difficult to adjudicate and umpire of any in the world, particularly the football codes. Unfortunately the job of the umpires is not being made any easier by the AFL.

Before the 2017 season began they decided to bring in a new rule to abolish the use of a third man up at ruck contests. The reason? To preserve the role of the ruckmen and protect them from injury, which is fair enough, but the result has been a series of embarrassing free kicks being paid when players find a way around the system of who is the ‘nominated’ ruckman at each stoppage.

North Melbourne’s Todd Goldstein and Fremantle colossus Aaron Sandilands are both fans of the new rule, as they would be, but Goldstein admitted he has never been hurt or injured by a third man competing with him for a hit-out. While I have nothing against the new rule itself, I have a big issue with the AFL changing rules every season for the sake of it.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Often it seems the AFL is forced to make rule changes to combat a certain pattern of play or something that has happened as a result of a previous rule change. Shouldn’t there be a lesson in that? Coaches are very smart men and they will find a way around any new rule, because for them it isn’t about playing a brand of football that looks good, it’s about points on the board and winning games.

So here’s my message to the AFL and the Laws of the Game Committee – our game is wonderful, it’s exciting, and great to watch. So stop messing around with it, and give the poor umpires a chance to do their job.

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About the author

Akash Fotedar

Akash is a Perth-based sportswriter and journalist who has come on board with Commentary Box Sports to provide expert cricket, AFL and tennis coverage. An experienced cricketer, Akash has played three seasons in England as an overseas pro and is still active in grade cricket in WA.

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