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It's time to scrap the match review process

Melbourne's Colin Sylvia about to collect Gold Coast's Jared Brennan with an elbow.

Melbourne's Colin Sylvia about to collect Gold Coast's Jared Brennan with an elbow. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Like a lot of people, I was a fan of the concept of the Match Review Panel when it was introduced in 2005. The theory sounded good, a standardised points formula which should by rights deliver more consistent penalties, and save plenty of time wasted on tribunal hearings for frivolous charges. And there's no doubt on the latter score, it's delivered, 25 tribunal sittings held last year as opposed to 125 in the last year of the old system in 2004.

What James Kelly did last Friday night was hardly outside the spirit of the game. He didn’t deserve what he got. What Colin Sylvia did was. He deserved more. 

But theory doesn't always translate to reality. And that is the AFL's judicial system continues to fail its most basic test, to deliver verdicts consistent with the football crimes committed, and which don’t leave the vast bulk of the football world shaking their heads in bewilderment.

There's more head-shaking going on than usual today after the tribunal on Tuesday night upheld the MRP's two-game suspension for Geelong's James Kelly's bump on Essendon’s Brendon Goddard, the Cats' skipper Joel Selwood having tweeted: "Sad day … the bump is dead".

He may well have a case, too, certainly the bump as we've come to know it, Kelly's contact in the midst of a quick passage of play, an attempt to remove the potential tackle on teammate Allen Christensen by the Essendon player, conducted with his arm tucked in, his head turned, his one sin being that his feet ever so slightly left the ground, causing Goddard to be taken high.

A slight misjudgement, perhaps. Malicious? No way. Indeed, Goddard tweeted Kelly soon after the game to tell him: "Good hit last night. Old fashioned shirt front".

That was a genuine thumbs up, and sent long before Goddard appeared on Tuesday night to give evidence which critics of the old system would always argue was concocted under the unofficial players' brotherhood code. The tribunal paid it scant attention, though, and Kelly's two-game penalty remained.

And now for the ultimate contrast. And it is another verdict from last weekend, concerning Melbourne's Colin Sylvia, which is the classic Exhibit A.

Sylvia, frustrated by his side's inept performance against Gold Coast on Sunday, decided to vent his spleen by continuing to run towards Jared Brennan well after the Suns player had dished off a handball, raise both arms, and elbow Brennan to the head. Nobody could rightly argue it was contact made in the context of play. To be blunt, it was a pissweak effort.

Watch the videos of both incidents. Kelly's bump is delivered with a teammate about to pick up the ball, an opponent nearby with the potential to interfere with that aim, and Kelly trying to allow his player free passage, the only slight error one of timing. Goddard is stunned for a moment, but picks himself up and carries on.

Sylvia, in contrast, picks off a player who has already disposed of the ball, knowing he cannot possibly influence the passage of play. He's late to arrive, and when he does, chooses not even to lay a bump to make his presence felt, but collect Brennan with one of the sharpest, boniest bits of the body. Brennan is concussed and stretchered from the ground.

Yet for some inexplicable reason, to me anyway, both Kelly and Sylvia were deemed to have engaged in "reckless conduct". Kelly’s at worst should have been considered "negligent". Sylvia somehow escaped a rating of "intentional".

MRP chairman Mark Fraser, describing the incident in an AFL video, says: "Brennan disposes of the ball, Sylvia continues forward and puts both arms up in an attempt to probably make body contact. Sylvia elbows Brennan in the head, and obviously he was concussed and didn't come back on."

But then, explaining the reckless grading, he adds: "We don't think that Sylvia has intentionally struck him …" Excuse me? So exactly what was he doing charging at an opponent who'd got rid of the ball, with his arms raised and elbow out? Show him a variation on "Gangnam Style"?

There's inconsistency for you. And now to the matter of discounts and loading. Fortunately, Sylvia's bad record didn't allow him 25 per cent off for an early plea, otherwise he would have ended up with exactly the same two-week penalty as Kelly, also stuck with a bad record due to a hardly earth-shattering one-game suspension from last year’s elimination final.

The AFL last summer tweaked the loadings and discounts formula, making it marginally more lenient on previous misdemeanours, and marginally less rewarding for the well-behaved. Yet still, when either is factored into a penalty, the bottom line is too often completely out of whack with the seriousness or otherwise of the report in question.

What James Kelly did last Friday night was hardly outside the spirit of the game. He didn’t deserve what he got. What Colin Sylvia did was. He deserved more.

There's plenty more examples where they came from. And more evidence mounting that points systems, set penalties and clauses which either benefit or punish further players' histories are too often attempting to fit square pegs in round holes.

The Match Review Panel was a good idea which hasn't worked. And I reckon it's time we scrapped it and went back to actually treating each case on its merits, even if it means the blokes on the tribunal have to put it a few more hours each week.

120 comments so far

  • Well said Rowan - Ive been arguing for years that the MRP inconsistency goes as far down to the roots as to what is referred and what isn't.

    Rat Patrol
    Date and time
    May 15, 2013, 8:33AM
    • Rat Patrol, who are you actually arguing to? Directly to the AFL, your mates or just your toughy forum mates?

      AFL House
      Date and time
      May 15, 2013, 10:47AM
    • oh dear Rohan. you normally write a decent article with reasonable arguments, but really. Surely you remember waking up on a tuesday morning not having any idea what kind of verdict would be handed down by the buffoons that were the AFL tribunal.

      the present system is fine. incidents are graded and can be challenged. it is completely transparent. if the wording of the laws is dubious, that is not the fault of the MRP

      now come Ro - lift your game

      Date and time
      May 15, 2013, 2:55PM
    • In the Brett Goodes case, he was about to be tacked by Caddy, while Goodes was chasing the ball, and Goodes merely braced himself for contact. Yet he was assessed a 3 week penalty.

      The problem is, we are using the legal system as a model for the MRP. Anyone who has had any experience in the legal system would tell you that's a bad idea if you want to achieve justice.

      The J Dog
      Date and time
      May 15, 2013, 4:09PM
  • Exactly. And so blantantly unfair that we can only imagine the reasons for it.

    Date and time
    May 15, 2013, 9:07AM
    • It's not as unfair as Collingwood planting Malthouse at Carlton to make sure they don't make the finals! It's a cunning plan and so far it's working better than Eddie would have dared hope when he and Mick organized it.

      Date and time
      May 15, 2013, 2:32PM
    • Fred you're half a lemon short of a salt shaker.

      Date and time
      May 15, 2013, 9:36PM
  • Rohan in the Sylvia incident I thought that actually Sylvia was slowing down and Brennan kept coming and Sylvia's action was to a degree self protection.Do these two players have previous form against each other.

    Date and time
    May 15, 2013, 9:13AM
    • Firstly, Sylvia hit Brennan when Brennan was going passed him. What was he defending?
      Secondly, if he were protecting himself he would've push Brennan away, not swing an elbow.

      Date and time
      May 15, 2013, 10:49AM
  • Rohan, Your last comments regarding the the Tribunal having to put in some extra hours seem very relevant. It appears as though every time the tribunal is called upon, it is inconvenient for them and they prefer to uphold the MRP decision just to punish for the inconvenience.

    Sydney Reader
    Date and time
    May 15, 2013, 9:30AM

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