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AFL boss oversteps mark on umps

In the firing line: Umpire Troy Pannell gives a Hawthorn free kick yesterday.

In the firing line: Umpire Troy Pannell gives a Hawthorn free kick yesterday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou has never been a big fan of Twitter, not only because he seems to believe it's a forum for people to talk about their shopping or toilet habits, but because he thinks it makes people run off at the mouth.

"If we were all allowed to say everything we wanted to say, we'd be in a bit of strife, particularly me, so you do have to act responsibly," he mused on Friday, fully five seconds before coming up with arguably the most ridiculous and far-fetched analogy of the football year.

Demetriou defended the league's hardline stance on criticism of umpires, making the usual points about the difficulty of attracting people to the job, and the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech He supported his argument with a comparison to disgraced Melbourne sponsor Ben Polis' Facebook rants about a variety of ethnic groups, women, and residents of Frankston.

So a couple of Carlton players dared tweet their disapproval of the umpiring in last Thursday night's game, and suddenly they're being equated with a racist misogynist? Now that's offensive.

AFL umpires by and large do a pretty decent job, particularly given the extra range of responsibilities they've had to take on in recent years. And there is clearly a need to keep umpiring as a desirable football career path.

But I don't buy the theory that some teenage kid is going to abandon plans to pick up a whistle because a couple of AFL players had a mild go at decisions in one particular game.

To suggest that Marc Murphy tweeting that the umpires had "ruined a good game" creates a culture that encourages far more ritual and personal abuse of umpires at lower levels is drawing a pretty long bow.

And frankly, one that makes the AFL umps, all of whom are seasoned professionals and would barely bat an eyelid at Murphy's comments, look overly precious. Which a vast majority are not.

Partly due to Twitter, AFL players these days cop more sustained and personal abuse for making blunders than the umpires do. It doesn't seem to stop little Johnny having a crack at Auskick. A kid thinking about an umpiring career surely can't be naive enough to think he's not going to cop the odd spray from a player. And if he is, how's he going to cope with what comes his way from over the fence at an AFL game?

Murphy's teammate Jeremy Laidler wasn't even that blunt. "Are you not meant to try and be first in at the footy anymore? If you do, you will be pinned for holding the ball. Shocking!!!"

His comment was an immediate response to one of the poorer decisions of this season, the holding the ball paid against Aaron Joseph, with the Carlton defender pinned on his back, a posse of opponents piled on top, and the ball not even in his grasp by the time the free was paid.

There's been a few similar shockers this year, where the fundamental objective of the game - winning the ball - has been trumped by a silly symbolic requirement for a player to madly wave his arms around, supposedly demonstrating his intent to release it, even if it's physically impossible.

Of course that's going to frustrate players who have spent a whole lifetime trying to beat their opponent to the contest. Are they not allowed to let off a little steam about it? And can we not have a serious discussion about umpiring without everyone pussyfooting around the issues lest they cop a rap over the knuckles from an administration offended on someone else's behalf?

Does it mean there's an umpiring crisis? Of course not. But if the AFL wants the focus kept away from forensic inspection of umpiring, its heavy-handedness about a couple of tweets was about the worst course it could have pursued.

Yesterday, Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Richardson, among others, weighed in, the St Kilda skipper suggesting umpires' boss Jeff Gieschen should front the media each week to explain controversial decisions.

Gieschen already does that on the AFL's own website. But how many people care to watch other than when a decision is as blatantly frustrating as that free kick against Joseph?

Whether the football public wants or needs a blow-by-blow account of decisions is doubtful.

We probably wouldn't be talking about it had a couple of players been given a little latitude for a heat-of-the-moment remark.

Instead we got a lecture about our responsibilities, a stupendous bit of dramatic hyperbole from the AFL boss, and a role that most agree works best when it's a case of seen and not heard, gets thrust under the microscope again.

82 comments

  • Well Demetri you say players commenting on Umpires is like racial comments. What a joke and offensive statement that is. I'm of Italian heritage and all through my years of sport i and most of my team mates were always been racially abused. We never got paid to play sport so we played for fun. Now those umpires are paid a fair sum of money so they should be up for fair criticism just as the AFL players are up for criticism for missing that goal or miss kicking the footy or walking across the road with a skirt on on mad Mondays. Demetri get in the real world and just accept human error does occur, as it did on several occasions on Friday night in Perth. It did cost the game to Carlton and it may just end a job for the coach of Carlton. But that's fine keep protecting the men in white even when they stuff up a game of footy.

    Commenter
    AM of MTG
    Date and time
    June 17, 2012, 11:35PM
    • you're right, "human error" does occur - the game was on thursday night!

      Commenter
      blues man
      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 2:33AM
    • Kerr was pinged for exactly the same thing as Joseph. It's not the umpires that are biased!!!

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 10:58AM
    • cost them the game??? carlton lost the game because they didn't play 4 quarters of good footy, not because of the umpires!

      Commenter
      jimmi
      Location
      perth
      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 4:17PM
  • Good article. What about the 50 metre penalty against Juddy who elbow hit an opposition player's arm? You see that every week but I have never seen a 50 metre penalty given. There were a number of bad decisions in the first quarter and a number of infringements that the umpire let go. How can you enjoy the game when each week the umpire is following slightly different versions of the rules. A more consistent approach would be appreciated. Free speech forever!

    Commenter
    Mr Banana
    Date and time
    June 17, 2012, 11:42PM
    • The elbow was the last act in a long line of beligerence from Judd. He had been warned by the umpires not to go on with it. I just think it is such a shock to Carlton sycophants that Judd could be penalised for anything ever.

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 11:02AM
    • Judd was warned not to do it, then he did it again. Elbowing people is clearly against the rules. So, while soft, he was warned there would be consequences and ignored the possibility as he was sick of getting his butt kicked all game.

      Commenter
      Nick
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 12:24PM
    • Home ground advantage... the rules always change based on the crowd in the vicinity. When 30,000 people yell "ball" it can be pretty convincing. Always has and always will happen. Interestingly, I noticed that Richmond got most of their free kicks on the wing in front of their fans on Saturady afternoon. The rules don't change, but the 50/50 calls get influenced by the crowd. Even your view of events is always clouded by your allegiances. Umpires do a good job, but the rules are crazy at present. Never see in the back paid anymore but plenty of holding the ball. Should be the other way around.

      Commenter
      af
      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 5:38PM
  • Right on Rohan. Mr Demetriou many of us are wondering why the player making every effort to play the ball is sometimes dealt with so harshly by the "holding the ball rule"
    I notice that the "rolling scrums" have been dealt with by umpires reverting to a quick ball up rather then letting the scrum go on and on as has been happening this season. Nothing to do with the interchange but just the way the scrums are dealt with.
    Second last point. For holding the ball just make it simple. If there was no prior opportunity then ball it up very quickly. If there was prior opportunity then its a free kick to the tackler. Dispense with all the variations on correct, incorrect and attempted disposal requirements they are just rubbish.
    Finally be tougher on throws. Pay a free every time the player throws the ball.

    Commenter
    Hawkeye
    Date and time
    June 18, 2012, 12:53AM
    • Right on regarding "prior opportunity" and "holding the ball" - it's rubbish! In many cases the tackle which is rewarded isn't a tackle at all - once a player is deemed to have "prior opportunity" they only need to be touched and they are penalised. If the ball is lost in a tackle it should always be "play on"!
      Also, do umpires do any training to improve their spatial skills? They have no concept of distance, marks consistently paid for 8 - 12 metre kicks!

      Commenter
      Brian
      Location
      Wagga Wagga
      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 1:17PM

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