Australian Rules Football – Laws of the game gone mad

AFL laws driving me to distraction

It wasn’t so long ago that my loudest jeers were reserved for the umpires at the Gabba after they make some blunder paying an undeserved free kick to the opposition team (usually Carlton) inside their forward 50m. In the last couple of years, something has changed? Am I getting older? Yes, quieter? Perhaps, but my outrage has been redirected to the Laws Of The Game Committee. Nowadays, I feel some pity for the umpires attempting to enforce laws that are clearly designed to ruin the game. Some pity, not a lot though.

Where has it gone wrong? I believe the descent began when umpires began paying free kicks for placing a hand on a players back in a marking contest and the fundamental flaw in the reasoning behind that decision. The reasoning was two-fold. Firstly, it makes it easier to determine when a free kick is warranted and the player in front is not simply diving forward. Any hand, anywhere, free kick. This is almost sensible, however the second reason was to ensure that the player in front had a fair chance to contest the ball. What? A fair chance. The entire aim of the attacking team is to give an advantage to the forward…size, speed, strength or simply kicking to advantage… for example, kicking over the defenders head.

So, if that is where it started, where is it now? Carried forward in a tackle? Contact with the head and now the slide rule. The original purpose of the laws of the game seems to have been forgotten and now we watch umpires enforcing laws that have been rewritten to make umpiring easier, to improve the spectacle of the game or protect the health of the players. It is the first set of rules that are the clear failures. Rules for rules sake. Rules to protect the rules.

What needs to change?

Some things need to go backwards to go forward. In order to protect players, sometimes, they need to be protected from themselves. A tackler should be able, with due care, stop the ball carrier. Virtually all attempts by the ball carrier to ‘draw’ a free kick should be ignored. First one to go is falling forward. If you aren’t stable on your feet, under the current laws, there is no reliable way to be tackled. You see a proliferation of small forwards taking possession of the ball under pressure and as a defender approaches start falling. The reward for this is much greater for a forward than for say, a midfielder or defender who really needs to get to the next contest.

Next on the chopping block. Head high contact. This one really needs to be simplified. The entire purpose of this law is to protect the player and that is how it should be interpreted. If the high contact is actually dangerous. Penalise it. Hell, just to make sure, why not make it an automatic 50m penalty in return for far more leeway on the incidental contact. An arm over the shoulder so a defender can spoil a mark should never be penalised. A swinging forearm to the side of the head however, march them. By this interpretation, if you have your head down over the ball, you are still protected from dangerous contact, but a front on, over the shoulder tackle could still be applied. This should reduce the epidemic of player burrowing which is a true blight on the game.

What about hands in the back in a marking contest. It is a little tricky, on one hand, if you just scrap the rule altogether, you will just be able to push someone out without consequences…but it is unworkable in it opposite extreme it is now. I propose an airborne clause…a player in front, feet on the ground is not going to be pushed out of the contest too easily if you don’t want to be. At least not without compromising the pushing player’s ability to mark the ball. Where it gets both dangerous and trivial to take someone out is when they are not on the ground. In my own playing experience, my worst injury came from a push in the back as I was leaping for a mark. This rule will probably always be exploited and so, it must be accepted that the umpires will always be required to use their discretion.

While I am going. How about we bring the deliberate rushed behind rules in line with deliberate out of bounds. It was actually far more exciting to see the players scramble to keep the ball alive near the goal line.

Lastly, the anti Adam Goodes rule (sliding). Just apply the same principle as high tackles. If it appears dangerous, don’t allow it. If it is 50/50, let it go.

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