MRP – bureaucracy at its finest?

Another week, another Monday of controversy for the AFL’s Match Review Panel. Daniel Merrett smears Cam Pedersen’s nose across his face and gets off while Stevie J leans on someone and gets a week. Lindsay Thomas, feeling contact from behind, launches himself forward in a manner befitting Jai Taurima and gets off too. And let’s not forget poor old Nat Fyfe who, while Gazza messes about in the coaches’ box, looks increasingly like he will miss out on the Brownlow for looking at Michael Rischitelli the wrong way.

Meanwhile, here in SA, North Adelaide player Joe Anderson slings triple Magarey medallist James Allan onto his head, in the process dislocating his wrist and ending his season. He will miss just two weeks as a result. His teammate, Michael Clinch gives Ed Smart a whack that he recovers from in half a minute and gets the same penalty.

It doesn’t seem right, does it? Are the MRP a bunch of incompetent fools who have no feeling for the game and spend too much time watching collisions in slow motion? Have they lost their bottle since the Viney brouhaha and would they have misplaced that bottle sooner had Fremantle been capable of generating the same level of national hysteria at Fyfe’s suspension? Have you read the National Match Tribunal Guidelines or the (more easily digested) Tribunal 2013 document produced by the AFL?

I have. For the most part it seems like a solid piece of bureaucracy (that’s a compliment in case you were unsure). It outlines and defines the system and nature of charges and it places them in a handy table of seriousness and penalty. In my increasingly lengthy career as a bureaucrat one of the great struggles has always been the more you seek to make something fair the less simple it becomes. The tribunal guidelines are a case in point – in their attempt to be consistent and fair they are not straightforward.

How much anger vented at the MRP really should be directed at the system’s structure? The answer is probably about half. If people don’t understand the structure they are not going to understand the outcomes. All they are able to apply is their idea of what seems right, seen through the prism of their own club’s interests.

I do not believe the system needs scrapping. I think for the most part it serves its purpose. Consistency of application is clearly an issue. Outside of changing some of the categories and resulting penalties I would only make two changes:

1. Get rid of the loading/deduction for a good/bad record – currently the system imposes a 10-50% loading on the penalty for a player with a bad suspension record and applies a 25% reduction for a player with a good record. That means you can have two players doing exactly the same thing worth 4 weeks (for example, intentionally kicking someone in the nads with low impact). One gets 3 weeks and the other gets 6 (if both take an early guilty plea that becomes 2 and 4 respectively). Although to a certain extent this mirrors the judicial system, to me it is unjust. The same action should attract the same penalty. Repeat offenders now face deregistration with 16 games of suspension – surely that is sufficient disincentive.

2. The AFL should make more of an effort to explain the system and outcomes – while the guiding documents are relatively easily found using google, the AFL does not go out of its way to publicise them. Providing better guidance on the ‘impact’ measure would also be helpful. Most importantly, for controversial decisions like the ones we have seen this week, it would be great to see the reference points that were used to make the decision (i.e. similar situations considered by the MRP of people knocking noses off faces and leaning on opponents). It would not be that difficult to make a reference library publicly available and it would also make the MRP more accountable for its calls.

Am I way off track? How would you seek to add consistency to the underpinning system and its application? Am I fanciful in thinking there is any way to implement a system that people would be happy with?

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. Your Honour, I contend that it is impossible to kick someone in the Nadals with ‘low impact’.

    The first offender/repeat offender allowances are an easy target for all the empty-ergo-loud vessels on SEN talkback and Bigfooty, but are built into most legal systems in some form or other. Although murder gets you life the first time, and a king hit of the Brandon Ellis variety should give you four weeks regardless of how spotless your record or unimpeachable your character.

    I would also ditch the early plea discount immediately.

  2. Dave Brown says

    It does raise an interesting question, Rick. Just how softly would the leather have to tap the two veg to be considered ‘insufficient force to constitute a reportable offence’?

    The early plea thing is similar – it is unjust because it players accept penalties they would otherwise challenge. But again there are parallels in the legal system.

  3. CORRECTION: For Brandon Ellis in my last post on this thread, read Rhys Conca. Apologies for any misunderstanding.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    It is idiotic that in cases such as , Conca when he obviously had no other option but plead guilty that the discount for pleading guilty applies . Vickery gets sent to the tribunal which you don’t have to use the points system but it was still done exactly as that . Stevie J the common sense punishment would be 1 game for stupidity , how a football genius can be so bloody idiotic in other ways is mind boggling .
    The idea of set penalties has some merit but it is too complicated , too legal and lacking football common sense thanks Dave

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