An AFL petition calling for a supporters’ election

By Paul Spinks

In recent years the AFL administration has made many changes to the people’s game.

It has shortened matches (by introducing twenty minute quarters); implemented rule amendments and interpretations without fully thinking through the consequences; appointed committees and panels that justify their existence by further modifying rules and interpretations; introduced new teams before they are ready to compete; and changed the fundamental nature of the game for reasons only it is privy to.

The AFL established a tribunal system to, rightly, rid the game of thuggery, but hasn’t known when to stop, and what was once simply a free-kick is now an overly harsh suspension. Each year rule interpretations are taken to new levels of technical absurdity, and often what is deemed contact would be more appropriate for a basketball match, further encouraging a perception the AFL is compromising the integrity of the game as a non-contact sport. Umpires have been too frequently and unnecessarily interfering in the game and denying players the opportunity to decide the outcome of contests.

But in all these committees, panels and commissions, in all this decision making there is a missing voice, the voice of the majority, and the most important stakeholder of all …the fans.

Even when the AFL conducts a supporter survey, it then proceeds to ignore results it doesn’t like. A case in point is the interchange rule. The AFL was surprised to find that supporters were unconcerned about the number of interchanges …supporters were unconcerned because they don’t notice them …they are watching the ball, concentrating on the game. When players take their eyes off the ball and make contact with an opponent they are penalised. The AFL has its eyes off the ball when it comes to running the game, but is unaccountable to the people that matter most.

To address this lack of supporter representation:

I/we call on the AFL to hold an election whereby members of competing clubs, including AFL members, can vote for a person or persons to represent them directly, report to them and be accountable to them first, foremost and solely. This person or persons will have the right to sit on the rules committee, and at executive and commissioner meetings or panels …in short, have the right to attend any AFL meeting that concerns the running of the game, and be able to present the case of supporters.

They will have the right to inspect the minutes of past meetings and to reveal their content to supporters. If no minutes have been kept or there is no recorded account of the reasoning behind the AFL decision-making the supporters’ representative/s will have the right to demand why and/or to conduct an enquiry. They will have the permission to investigate the member selection process behind these committees and panels …is it a matter now of like recruiting like and continuing a trend of decision making at odds with the majority of fans?

The representative/s could, for example, investigate the running of the rules committee …how are meetings conducted and decisions arrived at? Are there enough competing views? They could ask why players are unable to argue precedent at tribunal hearings. Is it because the AFL wants to reserve the right to be reactionary and respond to what it declares a community concern when it sees fit?

I/we acknowledge the AFL administration has a difficult task in balancing competing interests, and is sometimes damned whatever course it takes, but one voice that can assist, and is presently unrepresented in an official capacity, is the voice of the majority …the supporters.

I/we call on the AFL to hold this election before the end of the 2013 season.

Furthermore, the AFL will provide this elected person or persons with the necessary resources for them to thoroughly perform their role.



  1. Here here Paul. I nominate you as the representative of the Almanac!


  2. Thanks, Yvette. There are people far more capable than me, but I thought I’d try to get the ball rolling. Never done a petition before …though there are ways to set them up electronically etc.?

  3. Mark Doyle says

    This seems like another whinge about AFL football or an attempt at irony from a conservative and parochial footy fan? Fans are the last people that you would want to have an influence in the rules and interpretations of the game; their involvment is too emotional and irrational.
    People need to understand that the rules and interpretations need to evolve because of the development of the way the game is played. The game has become more of a team game with very little positional play and teams now comprise 17 ruckrovers and 5 big blokes, who are mostly very athletic and good endurance runners. Coaches continually adapt game strategies and attempt to exploit rule interpretations to gain an advantage over other coaches and teams. The AFL Commission, the umpires and the rules committee need to respond to this coach development so that the game continues to be the best and most entertaining of all the football codes.

  4. MD, I was thinking the same thing whilst having yum cha with close family and friends near Federation Square yesterday, before attending one of the events of the Melbourne Writers Festival.
    Great minds.

  5. Actually, Mark, you’re not too far off the mark (sic). Someone did once describe me as a football conservative. I agree that fans are also part of the problem, but once the dust has settled many are capable of thinking more rationally given the right forum and information. Anyway, all I was suggesting that they be able to vote for someone to represent them directly at AFL level. Even if it provoked the AFL to appoint a supporter’s Ombudsman or similar might be a win of sorts.
    I disagree that rule and interpretation changes are simply a response to what coaches are doing. Often it’s the other way around. I’d argue the change from 25 minute to 20 minute quarters, for instance, has been a factor contributing to the trend of recruiting athletes, which, in turn contributed to the game speeding up, which led to further rule changes and so on (and yes, I realise the total reduction has been less than 5 minutes because of additional time-on changes).
    A significant turning point was the hands-on-the-back rule, because that’s when the interpretation of contact entered the realm of absurdity …and has continued along that line. Maybe Kevin Bartlett is trying to reinvent the game in his own image …but footy just won’t work with 36 crumbers running around.
    Danny Southern recently returned after several years not seeing a game and said it left him cold. Of course, not all matches are like that and he copped a bad one, but he’s a good reference point given the period he was absent.
    And true, coaching tactics have also contributed …possession footy, flooding etc (re the latter, sooner or later a team like Geelong was always going to come along, though that didn’t stop the introduction of modifications to address it). But there’s no reason a supporters’ representative couldn’t have a say about that as well.
    Anyway, the petition was just a thought …among many. Obviously I still love the game or I wouldn’t bother making a comment …and I’d like to help make sure it remains the best bloody game in the world.
    Paul Spinks

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    couldn’t agree more Spinksy. So obvious it needs to happen. Maybe a members association as opposed to one individual?

  7. Paul Spinks says

    Dead right, Andrew:
    I never intended it to be my petition …I was presenting it as an idea/proposal, but in my naivety as a first time poster to this site I probably didn’t explain that or present it properly.
    If there’s interest, I’m happy for those that know more about these things (petitions) to run with it.
    If it goes ahead and is set up, maybe I could draft an open letter to Andrew Demetriou …send it to the Age and Sun and draw attention to an online petition at the same time?
    Sorry about any name confusion …I joined the Almanac site at the same time I sent the email submission.
    Paul Spinks AKA Spinksy

  8. Paul Spinks says

    Before this post completely disappears into the Underworld of the Almanac archives…
    “Comrades, common members of the AFL, unrepresentative swill we may be, but we are large in number …unite”
    Or words to that affect…

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