CARPING about the work of the AFL judicial system is as age-old and predictable as sourpuss Alex Ferguson blaming the referee when Manchester United loses.
The establishment of the match review panel and a scale of set offences and penalties was meant to mitigate the angst, and mostly has. But the new season has begun harrumph-ily. Fans again perceive uncertainty and inconsistency. So do clubs. The figures tend to bear them out. Last year, the panel laid a total of 180 charges. Fifteen were challenged at the tribunal, three overturned.
This year, four charges have been challenged and three overturned by the tribunal already, all in the past fortnight.
Moreover, a fourth tribunal case, against St Kilda's Leigh Montagna, was withdrawn by the AFL at the last minute yesterday.
Either the tribunal is taking a softer line, or the review panel is pressing more speculative charges than previously. Seemingly, it is the latter. Prima facie, the rough conduct cases against Hawthorn's Brendan Whitecross and North Melbourne's Lindsay Thomas always would have failed. The collapse of the case against Montagna adds to an unhappy record.
That does not mean the panel should content itself with bringing only the most blatant offences to book. Neither does it mean that the tribunal should feel obliged to back the panel in every instance. But it does mean that a certain level of confusion again reigns. The review panel was meant to make the process more transparent, as well as the outcome. Instead, it is opaque again.
This sense is compounded by the panel's decision this week not to charge Geelong captain Joel Selwood with striking Brisbane's Andrew Raines.
The panel briefing says that Selwood made high contact with Raines, but with insufficient force to constitute a report.
In recent seasons, the panel has been hot on any contact to the head, however slight. This time, it gave Selwood the benefit of the doubt. The incident was off the ball, the two available camera angles are distant and Selwood's thrust did not stop Raines from retaliating with a much harder parry, for which he was charged and suspended.
There is a sensible argument to say that Selwood should not have been reported. It is just that until this season almost certainly he would have been reported. Unannounced, the policy has changed.
Inescapably, following Ferguson's hissy fit at Manchester City's Roberto Mancini yesterday, sports fans will be watching him; it's pathetic and funny. Inescapably, following Gary Ablett's tweet last Friday night, football followers and officials will be watching the work of taggers. And, inescapably, footy fans are again dwelling on the AFL's judicial system.