Discussion: what do we do with the advantage rule in Australian football?

from the fireside of Jim Young


An incident just occurred in the St Kilda-Essendon  game that emphasises how poorly Aussie Rules (the commentators in this case, but

the umpires far too frequently) has incorporated the advantage rule.

A St Kilda player laid an excellent tackle, worth a free kick, which the umpire was whistling for as a teammate gathered the ball and blazed away wide of goal.  The umpire rightly called the ball back and awarded the original free.  Commentators were divided on whether or not this was a correct decision as the player taking the spillage had an open chance, elected to take it and missed.


The VFL (of happy memory) adopted the advantage rule from other codes quite late (1970’s perhaps) and it has never been an easy fit.  Why not has a simple explanation – ours is the only game where the umpire blows his whistle and play does not necessarily stop.  This has to do with the marking rule, whereby a player may play on even after the umpire blows the whistle (which he must do to announce that it is a mark).  It would of course destroy the game as we know it if the player had to wait for the whistle until he could play on.  So throughout every game the whistle blows and players play on.


In soccer, if a player is fouled, the umpires are required to wait to see who can use the loose ball to advantage – which will take maybe 5 or 10 seconds.  In Rugby League if there’s a knock-on which spills to you and you can send someone away well and good.  Rugby Union, being a momentum game, not a possession game is different.  A knock-on will often result in a loose maul where, even though you haven’t actually got the ball, if you’re doing the pushing you can tear the other team apart.  Union therefore has a rule whereby the referee raises his arm in the air to signify advantage is still in play until it is resolved one way or the other, which can often take quite some time.


Surely some sort of sensible instruction can be made clear to umpires (and even television commentators) – blow the whistle as everyone understands you will do, but reserve the right to make a decision about what happens next.  If the player bounces the ball (most

obviously) or deliberately changes direction, play on – but surely he should be allowed a snap at goal or a pass to a teammate which will not be penalised if it comes unstuck.


What do you think?


  1. I agree that its very confusing Jim. I never understand how and why the umpire sometimes brings it back when the advantage play stuffs up, and sometimes not.
    Our game is so fast and multi-dimensional I assume it is their judgement that the advantage was not a real ‘advantage’.
    Fair enough, but the umpires whistle generally disrupts the whole play for both defenders and attackers.
    We understand what the whistle means in the context of a marking situation, so players can differentiate that from the free kick in general play (don’t get me started on the 10 metre chips constantly paid as marks).
    What would happen if the umpires raised the hand for a free kick as in Rugby Uniton,, and only brought it back when the recipient team had no real advantage? That way the whistle would not interfere with the run of play. Easier to retrain a few umpires than all the players.
    I thought that the umpiring was really good in Adelaide on Sunday night (I would say that wouldn’t I – but it was 15/13 our way so seemed fair at the time). The funny thing I notice is that there always seems an “Interpretation of the Week’ that confuses players and fans.
    Last week it was ‘in the back’ for the last man in tackle when the player with the ball is already on the ground. Doh, how do you fall on someone on the ground without getting into their back?
    If we want to make third man in tackles illegal – fine. It would bring the manic Fremantle defence back to the pack. But it should be overt not a sudden change of interpretation.
    Why don’t the umpires coaches send out a weekly email listing the things they have noticed and are asking umpires to pay particular attention to? Would make it easier for fans, players and coaches.
    Having said all that I do think the umpiring has been very good this season, and I haven’t seen any games overtly influenced.
    The video rule even worked when Hartlett hit the post of Sunday – probably the first time all year it truly corrected a howler (hit the post – but the goal umpire looked away too soon). Seeing we won by 10 points and not 4 – I would rather have occasional bad decisions than have the game interrupted for 2 minutes while the video shamans count the number of pinheads on angels? Is that time on – as the game clock seems to keep going on TV? Some of them take an eternity, to no useful purpose other than confirming that you can’t umpire a 3 dimensional game in 2 dimensions.
    As I said – don’t get me started.

  2. Dave Brown says

    Yeah, the trouble with the arm up signal of rugby and soccer for Aussie Rules is no offside meaning umpires and players are at different angles from each other. The trouble with the current interpretation is the player is supposed to be the one to decide whether to take the advantage – yet the umpires still impose themselves in deciding whether an advantage exists. It’s a pointless rule clarification.

    The laws say nothing at all that advantage means getting a clear disposal or opportunity to dispose. The only thing the umpire should interest themselves with is if the player was aware a free kick had been paid when deciding to play on. It’s adding common sense to that which is difficult.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    It is one of the inevitable grey areas of the Laws of the Game. However, I would defend the principle and practice of the advantage rule. It’s simple enough to specify the situations in which the ball should be called back to permit the original free, though understandably more ambiguous in split second real match situations.

    Essentially, as an umpire, one should call advantage if play is continuous, and the player with the ball – usually not the player awarded the free – elects to do so. If that player stops, original free kick stands. If he is caught before he can “take”advantage, original free applies. However, if there is a separate action, he handpasses to an opponent, if he is caught in his run away from the contest or if he miskicks, it is a case of next decision (play on, free kick, ball up whatever).
    I think two serious difficulties arise:
    – the in the moment decision whether to allow advantage, which depends on an instantaneous judgement whether the team receiving the free will genuinely be advantaged;
    – the “injustice” to the offending side, when players trained to stop at the whistle do so, but the player with the ball keeps going and enjoys an unfair benefit. The alternative for players of the offending team is to ignore the whistle and tackle, with a risk of a fifty metre penalty. This involves an element of double jeopardy

    As a personal note, I was umpiring an under-age team captained by Lindsay Gilbee (so probably close to twenty years ago), and allowed a team mate of his advantage, which he squandered by botching the kick. Gilbee was unconvinced by my answer to his query of “what was the advantage in that?” when I indicated that his grievance was with the bloke who had made a mess of the kick.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    And of course the team without the ball (usually the offending team) always stops when the whistle is blown, giving the other mob a head start that becomes advantage. Perhaps the interpretation could take this into account when deciding to award “play on”.

  5. Peter Fuller says

    When I was umpiring (at a very modest level, I stress), I was particularly conscious that the team receiving the free kick, and potential advantage should not get an additional benefit. I would only allow advantage, or I would reverse an advantage call, where the benefit to the team receiving the free kick was excessive. My justification (contrivance if you like) was to define continuous play to take account of the positioning of the opposition – not merely that the ball had kept moving for the advantaged team.

    That said, I consider that the advantage rule when applied fairly enhances our game. The reverse situation where an attack breaks down due to a (so-called, but seriously misnamed) professional free kick, means that the infringed team is effectively penalised.

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