The bedlams are burning

I was listening to Leigh Matthews on the radio the other day. They asked him for his tip for the upcoming game. He replied:


‘I’ve got no idea. Its why we go to the footy isn’t it? We have no idea what’s going to happen.’


Nailed it.


I’ve been banging on about this for some time. The loveable chaos factor in footy and why it’s so precious. It seems to me there are two types of people in this world: those who want to control the loveable chaos and those who don’t. I’m firmly in the don’t camp because in that chaos resides the game’s spirit.


A few weeks ago, Tom Stewart ironed out Dion Prestia in a brutal and unsavoury incident. Thankfully these days incidents like this are far more uncommon. He claimed it was unintentional, but Prestia lay unconscious for some time and took no further part in the game. Immediately the calls went out for the send off rule based upon the need to bring fairness into the equation.


‘Richmond would have won with Prestia on the ground’ was the basis for the justification to send Stewart off. Therefore, its only fair that the send off rule be introduced.


What’s interesting here is that the pitfalls of the send off rule were not raised at all. Initially anyway. The end (player sent off) justifies the means (problematic send off rule). Fairness was assumed because the statement that ‘Richmond would have won with Prestia on the ground’ was not challenged. See Leigh Matthews’ comment above. No one considered that Richmond fell behind with Prestia ON the ground.


I’m not about to launch into the incident itself and whether Stewart got his right whack or not, but it seems that the narrative around fairness smothered the discussion. How can anyone argue against fairness?


But football isn’t fair. Its not supposed to be. The genius of the game is that it plays out life far more than most sports. Lady luck is no bit-part player. The game comes at the player from any and every angle. You can’t turn away for a moment.


If we were serious about making football fair, we would do the following:


Make sure all rucks are the same size to ensure fairness at the ball-ups.

Shift the game indoors to take the fluky weather changes out of the contest.

Reduce the size of the arena so the better athletes don’t have an advantage.

Reduce the goals in size to fit into the indoor arena.

Make the goals a basket rather than big sticks so scoring is more certain.

Make the arena a rectangular shape rather than circular so sizes are conforming.

Make the surface flat and hard (say, a timber floor) and not grassy and uneven.

Eliminate tackling so collision incidents don’t happen.

Make the ball round as the oval shape leads to inconsistent bounce and unfair outcomes.

Eliminate kicking as those who can kick long have an unfair advantage.

Similar with handballs. They are too hard to adjudicate. Throwing only.

Free throws must be equal at the end of every game.

Reduce the number of players to keep the game open, safe and therefore fair.



A bit extreme? Yes of course it is. We won’t do it because it would be like painting over a Picasso. But my fear is that we will paint over the Picasso without noticing. One stroke of the pen at a time.


A send off rule introduces its own problems of adjudication and unfair outcomes. Replacing one flawed system with another doesn’t stop Prestia being ironed out. The only thing that stops that is changing the essence of the game. Replace the bedlam with control. Make the three dimensional two. Turn Buddy into a dour back pocket player.


If a player can be sent off, will he attack the footy with the same vigor and speed? Will he launch for a big grab knowing he could knee another bloke in the head? Will he tackle an opponent to bring him to ground? Will he collide with an opponent to cause a spillage and create the lose man?


Are we sure we want to make footy fair?




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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Daryl Schramm says

    Gee Whiz Damien. There is a lot to unravel here. The fairness factor is often the first item argued whenever there is some sort of dispute. Often the law is not fair either, but we are only talking about a sport/business. You point is well made with your list. My comeback to anyone who complains about the bounce of the ball is “OK, let’s play with a round one then”. Isn’t it ironic therefore we bounce the ball in the middle, where there is a line across the centre that demands a’ fair’ bounce and yet we throw it up around the ground where it’s a free for all. Another example, as an umpires coach in a local league I wanted to bring in a 50 metre penalty (only 25m existed). The answer I got was some of the grounds were so small that 50m was too big a penalty. My response was so we should penalise any player who kicked the ball 50m because the ground was too small. My idea of fairness wasn’t accepted. The we have the situation where two local northern suburb clubs were playing in a preliminary. One side, losing substantially, was coached by a former league player who authorised a ‘take a few out’ approach for the last quarter. The winning side ended up with about 13 players on the ground. They just got called off without replacement to prevent unnecessary injury. That wasn’t fair either, but where a send off rule might work. In my world, the Stewart one would never be a send off, but if a similar reportable incident happened in the same game, that would be different.

  2. Agree with you Dips. For every problem there is a solution that is simple, obvious and wrong. Law of unintended consequences. Can’t remember an intentional “take him out” since Barry Hall’s haymaker on Staker. The Gaff punch on Brayshaw was appropriately punished, but it was a “get out of my way” body punch on an annoying tagger that missed (and hit the head). Just like Stewart’s “make him earn it” gone wrong on Prestia.
    There is so much video and media scrutiny at AFL/VFL/SANFL/WAFL level that intentional “dog acts” are now thankfully rare. But Daryl makes a good point about lower leagues. The “swinging dicks” knuckle men are still far too prevalent. But finding umpires at that level is already difficult. They’d need bodyguards to get home safely if they sent off players from some clubs. Send off is warranted at that level – but impossible to police – and a lot of the very bad stuff happens when the ball is at the other end of the ground.

  3. Leigh Matthews obviously was not previewing the Geelong v North match.

  4. Fair call Smoke! There are always exceptions.

    Thanks PB and Daryl for the comments. Funnily enough I think the send off rule is good in the lower grades where kids and young adults can learn and respect the authority of the umpires. And hopefully take it with them into the higher grades.

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