Umpires. Some games you’ll hardly notice they exist, and others, you can’t help but feel compelled to scream at them every time a decision goes against your team. It’s this inconsistency that’s led to greater debate than ever regarding umpiring policies in the 2013 AFL season – particularly the AFL’s implementation of goal-line technology and unnecessary rule changes which have caused widespread confusion amongst players and supporters alike.
Hawk-Eye technology has been employed in various sports over the last decade, namely tennis and cricket. The benefit of the equipment is that it can pinpoint the location of the ball to the nearest millimeter, and provide officials with the tools to make correct decisions 100% of the time. While it has greatly improved the consistency and even added an element of drama to the aforementioned sports, the AFL is still yet to get it right with goal-line technology, nearly 18 months since its inception.
In 2012, the AFL trialed a video review system during the NAB cup and ultimately deemed it worthy for inclusion into the regular season. However, the system was merely powered by existing footage from television coverage of each game, and the angles supposedly used to achieve a decision beyond doubt, were those any average Joe could view from his living room. While in some cases, the system works and provides a clear picture of the ball’s path, in many cases, the footage is “inconclusive” and fans are left stalled for minutes at a time only to be told that the footage wasn’t clear enough to make a definitive call.
The AFL argues there is no easy fix for the issue, and they’re right in saying that – but the current structure just isn’t working. At the moment, no way exists for video footage to undoubtedly identify the path of the ball – whether a defender claims to have touched it or if the ball has seemingly bounced over the line. If a tiny round ball being hit consistently at over 100km/h can be precisely tracked without fail in tennis, there’s no reason why the AFL can’t implement similar technology. If Hawk-Eye technology doesn’t make it to the AFL, perhaps extreme, high-definition slow-motion cameras could be used around the ground to track the ball’s movement frame-by-frame. Adelaide Crows coach Brenton Sanderson has even suggested the AFL trial two goal umpires at end of the ground (instead of the traditional one) for added clarity.
On top of the issues surrounding goal-line technology, the umpires’ interpretation of fundamental laws of the game, such as the hands-in-the-back and holding the ball rule, seem to be changing by the week. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand how difficult an AFL umpire’s job is – but inconsistent decisions seem to be marring almost every game each weekend. A defender will put his hand on the back of another player on one side of the ground and have a free kick awarded against him, then the umpires will juxtapose this by seemingly turning a blind eye to it at the other end.
The modern-day interpretation of the hands-in-the-back rule has led to many arguing the game is becoming too soft – and with good reason. Players can be suspended for attacking the ball and collecting an opposition player by accident, matches can be decided by mere fingertips on a player’s back, and goals not awarded because of the AFL’s reluctance to get with the times and install the technology necessary to eradicate the game of the plague that is inconsistency.