Confusion is name of game

IT HAS lately become a weekly routine to question aspects of football's management. Over the past three weeks, the Match Review Panel has twice been rebuffed on decisions relating to recently introduced interpretations: Luke Breust has been knocked senseless by a player sprinting out of the interchange gate, and now the newest baby, the video goal umpiring review system, is under fire. The impression is of a game failing to adequately implement and deal with change.

Each of these episodes involved recently altered conditions, either imposed by the AFL or forced on it by others. Meanwhile, despite protestations to the contrary, umpiring emphases shift by the week. Not all of the game's media commentators and public attendees are mugs. They can see it. They say so.

Nathan Buckley is certainly no mug and he couldn't be accused of sour grapes after Collingwood's Anzac Day win. His concern at the handling of the Tyson Goldsack "poster" is absolutely valid. Had it not been for Jarryd Blair's late goal, the controversy over the outcome would have been deafening. The earlier video replay offered, conservatively, a 60-40 impression that Goldsack's soccer attempt didn't hit the post, but a poor piece of legislation ensured he was awarded only a minor score.

The origins of goal umpires, when in doubt, awarding the lesser outcome go back to a long-lost time when they wore wide-brimmed hats, calf-length coats, and were the sole judge of scores. Regardless of uncertainty, they simply gave what they adjudged to be the correct decision. If they were unable to make a judgment - perhaps as a result of being knocked over, or having their view obscured - they could decline to give a decision. In that situation, the field umpire would be required to bounce the ball on the goal line.

If it was clear there had been a score but the goal umpire wasn't sure whether, for example, the ball had come off a defender's or an attacker's boot, a minor score would be registered. The logic, in these circumstances, was that for the goal umpire to decline a decision was to deny the attacking team the established certainty of a behind.

Today, when doubt exists, the lesser outcome is foisted upon us as though it minimises the impact of any error. That would be fine if supported by mathematical reality, but of course it's not.


The lesser-outcome rule (now enshrined in the laws) probably cost Collingwood five points on Wednesday. On the other hand, if the ball did shave the post and a goal had been awarded, the error would have cost Essendon the same amount. So why not make a judgment based on the balance of probability?

If we are to use technology, why not entrust the new-age video umpires to do precisely as old goal umpires did: make the best decision on the available evidence? What was delivered on Wednesday, after a delay to the game and the application of millions of dollars of technology, was the obvious likelihood of an incorrect decision. The 60 per cent probability provided by the video was ignored and the decision left to rest on the uncertainty of the goal umpire. Thankfully it didn't determine the outcome of the match.

Equally incongruous were the two most discussed decisions of last week's Match Review Panel deliberations. The incidents warranted particular interest because in each case a serious injury was sustained: Sydney's Gary Rohan suffered a broken leg and Carlton's Andrew Carrazzo a fractured collarbone.

The other parties in the two unfortunate incidents were Lindsay Thomas, of North Melbourne, and Sam Lonergan, of Essendon. The panel issued Thomas with a three-week suspension (later thrown out by the tribunal), despite the fact that he broke no rule and was actually awarded a free kick from his collision with Rohan. Lonergan, in contrast, was penalised by the officiating umpire for his action on Carrazzo yet exonerated by the panel of any negligence.

Let's just replay that: Thomas didn't break the rules but was found to be negligent; Lonergan's breach of the rules that led to an injury - and no one has suggested there was no breach - was apparently not born of negligence.

So, was it an accident? One Essendon-supporting TV commentator actually ascribed the word "malice" to it. I think that was too strong a word, but I don't think the breach of the laws - the push in the back - committed by Lonergan was merely due to clumsiness or bad luck.

The Match Review Panel is clearly a befuddled body. After all, I wonder how many drivers are exonerated from the consequences of their action if they commit a breach of the road rules that contributes directly to an injury.

Some will want to believe that this is about Carlton. Of course it's not; just as the various comments above are not about Collingwood, Essendon, Sydney, or North Melbourne. They are about fairness, logic, and competence.

Subsequent actions by the lunatic fringe among Carlton supporters are an outrage and fair-minded supporters of all clubs will feel for Lonergan. Nevertheless, the Tasmanian was lucky to be playing on Anzac Day.