Dear Mark and Wayne,
I would like to appeal to you to make a common-sense adjustment to the way one particular, pivotal rule is being applied.
It appears that umpires have been instructed to adjudicate harshly against players who do not dispose of the ball when it is pinned to them or under them by one or more tacklers.
It starts with the examples shown to demonstrate point 3 outlined in the “2014 Laws of the Game – Holding the ball” video, which relates to No Prior Opportunity – Genuine Attempt.
In each example a player takes possession and is tackled almost immediately, with the tackler either taking joint possession of the ball or even taking sole possession while hugging the ball to the first player’s body.
Given that the video uses examples of one-on-one tackles, it doesn’t even cover the more common scenario in which a ball winner is tackled by multiple opponents, at least one of whom is as intent on snatching the ball away as the ball winner is on trying to prevent that happening.
Time and again we are seeing a player do nothing more heinous than get to the ball a split second before an opponent, only for the ball to be trapped in the tackle, yet he is penalised for not doing something that is completely futile and only for show.
There are even instances where no legitimate tackle is applied as players indulge in a tug-of-war with the ball, only for the player who arrived a split-second ahead of his opponent to be penalised because, in the judgement of the umpire, he has failed to make that fanciful “genuine effort” to dispose of the ball … even though in reality he is still intent on gaining clear possession.
We are also seeing players thrown to the ground in a tackle and somehow expected to make a genuine effort to dispose of the ball while face down on the turf with one or more opponents pinning them in that helpless position.
My point is that time and again we are seeing a player do nothing more heinous than get to the ball a split second before an opponent, only for the ball to be trapped in the tackle, yet he is penalised for not doing something that is completely futile and only for show.
I mean have you ever seen a player successfully kick or handball while face down on the turf with other players on top of him? Or get a kick or handball away while another player has the ball firmly gripped in both hands?
I trust that you watch more AFL games than I so I am going to assume you understand my point and don’t need me to elaborate. Instead, let’s take a step back and remember the intent of free kicks, because I believe we might have drifted away from that.
In every game you see a tackled player wait until his teammates arrive and then let the ball go or put it on the ground and push it out in a position that clearly disadvantages opponents who have laid legitimate tackles.
In any sport, a free kick, foul, penalty or whatever it’s called should be awarded when a player has gained an advantage or been disadvantaged by an act that contravenes the rules.
Can you explain how players are gaining any undue advantage in these instances?
By any logic when one player gets the ball and an opponent grabs him and prevents him from disposing of it, that’s a stalemate. No-one wins, no-one loses, neither player did anything wrong.
Mind you the injustice that players are being penalised for not complying with a contrived amendment to what used to be a clear enough rule is compounded by the fact that other players are not being penalised for infringements of the next 2014 “proviso” to the holding-the-ball rule.
Point 4 covers Illegal Disposal and states: “The player who has possession of the ball and drops, throws or places the ball on the ground without making a genuine attempt to handball or kick will be penalised”.
Not “the umpire may deem” the player will be penalised, as with the No Prior Opportunity – Genuine Attempt clause, but a very clear-cut statement that this will happen.
So why is that one just being ignored? Numerous times every game a player is legitimately tackled and the umpires just wait to see if the ball is released and, when it is, call play on.
The fact that players are skilled enough to use this as a tactic only makes it worse. In every game you see a tackled player wait until his teammates arrive and then let the ball go or put it on the ground and push it out in a position that clearly disadvantages opponents who have laid legitimate tackles.
When we put these two trends side by side, we can only conclude that it is now deemed more acceptable to dispose of the ball illegally than not to dispose of it at all.
How is that in the spirit of the game?
I hope that you appreciate my concerns and, on review, feel inclined to facilitate the required correction.
Long-time footy fan, first-time open-letter writer