The Olympics can draw out many emotions, but to me this year, I actually found them to be… ‘strangely refreshing’.
I took a bit longer than normal to get warmed up for the games this time. Perhaps it was because I went to Sydney and to the Vancouver Winter games, whereas this was always just going to be a far away tv exercise. Perhaps because it was footy season. Perhaps because we had a 10-month old frantically crawling around the house and waking at inopportune hours. Whatever the case, it took time, but I ended up getting right into it.
But what I found really refreshing was watching sports with proper rules. Where the ball is in or out, you touched it or you didn’t, you did the task legitimately or by using your hands/feet when you shouldn’t.
Take hockey for instance. Each of the games I watched had several ‘video referrals’ (like those in cricket or tennis where a team challenges) but all were clear cut. The ball struck someone’s foot. Someone lifted their stick about shoulder-height. An infringement occurred just inside the arc, or just outside it.
Then there was the volleyball. The ball is in or out. You hit the thing 3 times, or more. You lose the point if you touch the net. Simple, and everyone knows where they stand.
It was a great sporting fortnight. No mention of whether there was a prior opportunity to avoid hitting the net or whether that ball you’re sitting on got dragged in under by someone else. And more importantly, no mention of whether the act was intentional, or deliberate, or with intent sufficiently well disguised. No subjectivity, no requirement for the referee to dabble in amateur psychology.
It seems unnecessarily cruel then that, as the refreshing fortnight of sporting sanity came to an end last weekend, the AFL had to really rub it in by dealing us a new record for deliberate out-of-bounds frees. Did they really think this was the ideal opportunity to take advantage of this direct contrast, to demonstrate our game at its absolute worst?
Not only is there the issue of the level of enjoyment (or more so, the level of frustration) that us true Aussie Rules fans get out of our game, but it also cuts to the game’s expansion aspirations. Part of the reason I can get into a sport like hockey (a game that I otherwise know nothing about) is that I can at least understand the rules, and work the game out. But how on earth do we expect people in Sydney or the Gold Coast (let alone anywhere abroad) to ever take an interest in our sport when our rules are so malleable and subjective?
I’d also suspect that umpires would do a better job of picking up holding infringements or recognising ‘marked’ kicks that only travel 8m, if we could leave them alone to concentrate on those things.
So here are a few ideas:
- Get rid of the ‘deliberate out of bounds’ rule; make it a boundary throw-in if you put it out going forward or being tackled over the line; a free kick if put it our backwards
- Get rid of the ‘intentional rushed behind’ (yes, I know they seem to have got rid of it anyway, but that just means it’s a sleeper rule until sometime when they revive it on the unsuspecting); if the last touch before a behind is from the attacking team, kick it in as per normal; if the last touch is from the defensive team, award the point and then restart it with a ball-up 25m out
- If you’re tackled, you’ve got (say) 3 or 5 seconds to make a legal disposal; if it’s held to you, you’ve got to find a way to wrestle an arm free to release it
I’m not saying I’ve got that all down pat (and I’m less convinced on the third of those ideas), but we’ve got to do something to restore some objectivity to our sport’s rules.
We’ve got to accept that maybe, just maybe, the rest of the world is on to something. And maybe we should be taking note.