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End this farce

Date

The AFL must act swiftly before the basic premise of the game is altered.

Judgment day: Chris Judd at the AFL tribunal on Tuesday night.

Judgment day: Chris Judd at the AFL tribunal on Tuesday night. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

POLICING AFL football has never been an easy task. But the administering of the rules of the game and the league's judicial process is in danger of descending into farce.

What began as a sound enough idea to simplify the disciplinary process via a standardised points system, has become an unwieldy, wildly inconsistent and contradictory mess, one which threatens to leave most of the football community completely disillusioned.

The Chris Judd drama only added fuel to the already raging fires of discontent among the playing fraternity and a significant portion of the fan base about the entire system. And the eventual four-game penalty handed to North Melbourne's Jack Ziebell has brought into question allegedly the game's most fundamental premise: winning the ball.

The old stand-alone tribunal certainly meant lots of paperwork and late nights for more people, but at least it usually delivered a reasonably uniform set of findings. Now we're stuck with an overly complex system a vast majority of people can't comprehend, in which penalties seldom reflect the merits of the incident being assessed.

More importantly, a system in which three levels of officialdom - umpires, the match review panel and the tribunal - deliver verdicts regularly in contrast to and effectively undermining each other.

In the Ziebell case, the tribunal backed the review panel, but certainly not umpire Justin Schmitt, who hadn't paid a free kick as two players - Ziebell and Carlton's Aaron Joseph - collided in their pursuit of the ball.

Schmitt told the Carlton players remonstrating with Ziebell: "He was going for the ball. He just went the ball."

Review panel chairman Mark Fraser, in laying a charge, conceded that Ziebell was looking at the ball, and indeed got his hands to the ball, but slapped a "negligent" rating on Ziebell's actions anyway.

The tribunal determined that Ziebell had a "realistic alternative" to contest the ball rather than jumping in the air, but felt no compunction to explain what it actually was.

I certainly can't fathom what it might have been, other than to stand back and let Joseph have first dibs. If that's what players are now going to have to do, then we've just effectively altered the very essence of our game. And not for the better.

The slide tackle incident kerfuffle earlier this season was more convoluted and ludicrous officiating at work.

North Melbourne's Lindsay Thomas won a free kick for high contact by Sydney's Gary Rohan, only to find himself handed a three-match suspension by the review panel for rough conduct. Rohan broke his leg when the two players, coming from opposite directions on slippery turf, made contact.

The tribunal overturned that verdict, arriving at the conclusion that no one but the review panel had seriously challenged, that this was an unfortunate accident. It also overturned the one-match penalty given to Fremantle's Greg Broughton for a slide into Gold Coast's David Swallow, mainly because the Docker had arrived first to the ball.

Fraser's response after that reversal was hardly encouraging on the consistency front. "Obviously the tribunal decisions … will change our thinking a little bit, because the tribunal didn't believe that that was rough conduct," he said.

So, two judicial bodies with wildly conflicting ideas about what is punishable. And, from the sounds of it, doing very little comparing of notes.

The Thomas and Broughton verdicts were just one of a number of review panel findings with which the tribunal has disagreed. It overturned the ridiculously harsh two-match penalty given to Hawthorn's Brendan Whitecross after Geelong skipper Joel Selwood cannoned into him, a rough conduct charge dished out to the Cats' Steve Johnson, while a striking charge on St Kilda's Leigh Montagna was withdrawn. Montagna had been charged after Melbourne's James Magner ended up with a cut eye, found later to have been accidentally caused by Montagna's knee.

Tribunal counsel Jeff Gleeson was told by Fraser: "Had the match review panel been aware that the contact was made by the knee, the [panel] would not have charged Montagna."

Hang on a second. So the review panel wasn't sure what caused the cut, didn't bother to find out, but charged him anyway. Yep, there's a system ticking over beautifully. Not.

Don't we have a major problem if an umpire, on the spot and viewing an incident in real time and in context, can award a free kick, only for the player who wins the free to end up being suspended?

And don't we have an even bigger problem if the AFL's judicial bodies pick and choose who and what they're going to make an example of? You could argue the Judd "chicken wing" effort was a very bad look, and an adequate suspension symbolically important.

But was Josh Hunt's effort in needlessly standing forcefully on Eddie Betts' hand a few weeks ago any less damaging a look? It was just as unrequired, unsportsmanlike and, to be frank, cowardly. Judd got four weeks, fair enough. Hunt got a $1350 fine.

There's just too many contradictions like that going on, from penalty to penalty, between the umpires running the game and those who deliver the verdicts after it, between the verdicts themselves, overloaded with the asterisks and footnotes of loading, discounts and early pleas. And frankly, in the wake of the Ziebell case particularly, between what we know as the spirit of the game, and how it's being policed.

It's one big mess and nobody - players, fans or club officials - is happy. If the AFL is, it's either content with some pretty low standards or in complete denial about a system that has spun way out of control.

175 comments so far

  • well said. the game as a whole is too focused on removing all grey area from officiating. an on field example is the holding the ball rule, with ridiculous free kicks paid to players second to a contest who actively hold the ball in. what's wrong with letting a human expert make a judgement call?

    Commenter
    micknickbrewer
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    July 18, 2012, 1:44PM
    • Human expert huh. The umpire didn't award the free kick for the Zeibel incident and 25 odd thousand amateurs all voiced their disbelief. The umpiring was poor at times surpassed only by the attitude of the blues players which was abysmal. You need the MRT to catch umpiring mistakes likely brought on by the continual umpire intereference by the AFL higher ups.

      Commenter
      blue bayou
      Date and time
      July 18, 2012, 4:21PM
    • If we are concerned about player welfare, then how about charging players who injure their own teammates through negligent and reckless attacks on the ball?

      Commenter
      J Dog
      Location
      The Yarra
      Date and time
      July 18, 2012, 4:32PM
    • I cannot fathom how Ziebell's infringement, in going for the ball is somehow just as bad as Judd intentionally ripping an arm out of the socket.
      And Judd's claim that he released the arm as soon as he realised that Adams was in pain is bulldust. The only thing stopping Adams from further injury was the fact that his team-mates threw Judd away, which incidentally resulted in Judd receiving a free kick.

      Commenter
      kozeyekan
      Date and time
      July 18, 2012, 7:15PM
    • I agree J Dog. If a player deliberately injures another player the common assault charges should be laid by the police.

      Commenter
      Doug Small
      Date and time
      July 18, 2012, 11:18PM
    • kozeyekan, they were not judged the same. Judd got 4 weeks. Ziebell would have got 2 weeks if his record was any good, but with the bad record loading and no guilty plea it went up to 4.

      Commenter
      Nick
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      July 19, 2012, 12:51PM
    • I don't think this is well said at all. Rohan totally forgets the reasoning behind the MRP coming in. Before some people were being suspended for 6 weeks and a guy doing the same the next week got 2. There was no consistency. People now disagree with the consistency, but people that commit the same act, with the same outcomes and the same priors get the same penalties. The issue is so many commentators and fans either don't understand the rules, don't agree with the rules or don't understand the impact of priors or guilty pleas on the suspensions.

      Commenter
      Nick
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      July 19, 2012, 12:59PM
  • Nailed it, Rohan. Who knew that the MRP and the Tribunal were separate agencies? I was under the impression the Tribunal dealt with stuff that was too serious for the MRP. Turns out it operates almost entirely independently. So we have Judd's QC and the Tribunal chairman telling the jury to ignore Judd's priors, when for the MRP they have a very heavy bearing on the penalty.
    If the Tribunal's role is to determine guilt or level of charge that's fine but responsibility for the penalty should then go back to the MRP so that at least there is consistency with the penalties.
    I read a report last night which included an alleged quote from Gleeson asking what Judd was prepared to plead guilty to. If this was true, when did plea bargaining come into the process? Why wasn't Ziebel given the option of pleading guilty to negligent but not reckless (or the other way round - whichever is the less serious)?
    As with the bewildering interpretations of holding the ball, in the back, and dropping the ball, which only those behind desks seem to understand and certainly not those playing or paying to watch the games, the MRP/Tribunal imbroglio is yet another fine mess by the AFL. If they didn't have a monopoly, they'd all be on the dole.

    Commenter
    Tom Wills
    Location
    Yarra Park
    Date and time
    July 18, 2012, 1:44PM
    • Yeah, you've nailed it, Rohan. How about this scenario - 1st week of the finals, substitute Dane Swan for Ziebell. Swan jumps in the air to contest the ball and collects an opposition player - MRP gives him four weeks. Collingwood go to Tribunal, penalty stands. Collingwood appeal, penalty stands. Ok, now what. Collingwood go to court and blow the whole shootin' match to the sh*t-house! I don't support the Pies, but if it came to this, I'd support their decision. Rohan, your headline says it all - an absolute farce.

      Commenter
      Sandy
      Location
      Sandy
      Date and time
      July 18, 2012, 3:32PM
    • Tom, Ziebell was charged with negligent contact (the lowest form of contact worth only 1 activation point), he plead not guilty to this. He had the option to plead guilty, but chose to contest it as he said his eyes were on the ball and erroneously thought that was a valid defence. While it is true his eyes were on the ball, the MRP ruled he had other options to compete for the ball (eg; spoil or tackle when Joseph got the ball), therefore as his actions caused head high contact, he must be suspended per the rules as they are currently written. There is no provision in the rules for: "I was trying to get the ball". If you made head high contact and had another option to contest the ball, then you will get suspended. If that was a kick from Murphy and not a handball he likely would not have got suspended. Rightly or wrongly, these are the way the rules are written to try and limit head high contact.

      Commenter
      Nick
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      July 19, 2012, 12:56PM

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