Olympic objectivity, deliberate or otherwise

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.


  1. Dave,

    well thought out but you have one glaring omission in the ‘get rid of’ department.

    For fear of bringing the game into disrepute by offending those involved I decline to say what it is.

  2. Brad, sorry. Dave Carr hates footy.

  3. Why do you think a lot of “grey hairs” who have played footy in bygone years like me (where rules were nearly clearly defined) have trouble now with the different interpretations week in week out

  4. In relation to the Olympic events having set and confirmed rules, there was an area that seemed flexible. On that point, maybe Richmond should get in touch with Steve Hooker and use his influencing skills with officials to get the /AFL to extend the number of teams in the finals to 10 or 12.

  5. Sorry Brad can’t buy it. I love our wonderful game of bear baiting and maggot hating. As a side attraction they even put on 36 blokes chasing the pigskin if you get bored with the main show.

  6. I think you miss a whole heap of olympic sports with iffy decisions:
    * Penalty corner decisions in Hockey (you obviously didn’t watch enough games)
    * Off-side in Soccer
    * Block v Charge in Basketball
    * Judging in judging sports
    * Walking!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The issue with trying to take the close calls out of Footy: It would kill crowd attendance not to mention the AFL media! Can you imagine going to a game knowing there would be no argument over an umpiring call? Really? What about the column-inches to fill with no umpiring decisions? SEN would go out of business and Mark Fine would be out of a job (okay, have to admit this last one brings me around to your idea)!

    Also on the no diliberate! Wow! Like WOW!!! Talk about the quickest way to kill the game or what!

    So if you are so disillusioned with the game to suggest what you have suggested, can I suggest that the EPL is starting soon, make sure you have a Foxtel account! ;-)


  7. Yes, PeterB, unfortunately the contest between players is the sideshow. This is what disappoints me – that so much of the footbally public is consumer with umpires, when it should be about the exploits of great players like Ablett, Rioli, Cox & Bartel.

    Phillip, I’ll argue with you on hockey and soccer. Yes, there are penalty corners in hockey, but they’re for infringements, not for failing to diguise intent sufficiently. Similarly, in soccer, much as I don;t like off-side, you’re either in front of the ball and defenders or you’re not – the “deliberate” thing never comes into it.

    However, you are dead right about all the silly judgemental sports. “Faster, stronger, higher” sounds a lot better to me than “more fabourable to the judge.” Gymnastics to me fits with the circus (impressive acts, bt not a real sport), whereas medals should be for scoring more goals, running faster, jumping higher, etc.

    Which is essentially my point – our game is becoming the synchronised swimming or diving of competitve sports. And I’d rather watch a proper contest.

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