Why is it the AFL cannot sort out the advantage rule?

by Jim Young


Yet another episode late in the first quarter to remind everyone of the incompetent folly of the advantage rule as presently administered – a clear free in a marking contest to Geelong, umpire blew the whistle, by which time the ball had spilled to another Geelong player only about a yard away, so in heavy traffic – his kick was smothered off the boot, but under the current instruction to umpires he had chosen to play on, so the original free disappears and play continues with the advantage now to the team that initially infringed (and a goal results).


The above was written at quarter time.  It’s now half-time and in the last minute or two another incident occurred where a Brisbane player was impeded in a marking contest, the ball spilled to a teammate on the burst who took another three or four strides but clearly pulled up to give the ball back for the free.  Too many for the umpire – so when he was grabbed the decision went the other way.  It was clear to everyone he was doing everything possible not to play on, but the umpire (maybe slow on the whistle but much quicker on the call) gave the free against him.


The change this season (am I right in assuming it’s not a rule change but only an instruction to umpires on how to police the rule?) is a result of a silly way of applying it in past seasons, where it was often the case that when a free was awarded most players would obey the whistle, except every so often one player on the side awarded the free would play on when no one was contesting and gain an advantage due solely to inefficient umpiring.  Because of this they have changed to an interpretation that disadvantages (sometimes crucially) the team that has been awarded the free kick.


Another late in the third where Johnson on the run slipped a high tackle, took three stumbling steps and was denied the obvious free.


There was probably a counter instance in the last quarter (while I was doing my bit to encourage the brand new puppy to piss and shit outside).  I came back inside in time to see the end of a replay with the Podz running into an open goal while his opponent was standing the mark, arms extended, ten yards behind him


I started this letter at quarter time, and there’s been another episode every quarter.


There is a simple solution to this problem, which is exactly what every other football code has worked out: the umpire does not blow his whistle until he has decided whether or not advantage has been gained.


In soccer and in Rugby League (God knows how many  phone calls are required before decisions are arrived at in gridiron) within two or three seconds advantage is clear.  In Rugby Union the ref puts his hand in the air to tell the crowd “I know there’s been a knock-on but I’m waiting to see what happens” – which, given the habits of the loose maul, can take quite some time.  In Aussie Rules it would be two or three seconds.


As things stand, the rules not only allow but positively require players to continue to contest the ball after the umpire has blown his whistle.


All that is required is that when the umpire sees a free kick he delays blowing the whistle until he sees whether or not advantage has accrued.


It is conceivable that an umpire’s career could be significantly extended by the dozens of times per game he does not have to blow his whistle and then immediately call “Play on”.


Ramblingly irate,






  1. Tony Bull says

    This rule and the holding the ball just don’t work, the interpretations change week to week. You will never get the AFL rules committee to admit it. But they do seem to be instructing umpires to vary the adjudication trying to find a solution. But it just gets more bizarre in its application. Decisions seem to contradict what was explained earlier by the rulemakers.

  2. @Tony Bull.

    I agree. There’s been so many rule changes over the years to try to force certain conditions on the ground (eg.keep the play moving) that the rules are now colliding with themselves, particularly as the coaches have themselves created game plans to keep the ball moving.

    I think the game has evolved to a point where the rules created 5 or more years ago to remove congestion and stop time wasting are now getting in the way of current rules, and rationality.

    I think the easiest thing would be to have NO advantage rule at all and treat a free kick like a mark. The rules which govern what you can and cannot do while standing the mark or returning the ball will ensure that play continues relatively fluidly, or at least more fluidly than a player half taking the advantage then stopping only to be called to play on.

    The only person on the ground who knows what’s going on when the whistle is blown is the whistle-blower. Players second-guessing creates confusion and introduces even more grey by forcing an umpire to interpretat yet another situation.

  3. John Butler says

    Hear Hear Jim

    Why blow the whistle to then signify play-on?

    Counter-intuitive to everything a player is taught about playing to the whistle.

  4. Tom Bally says

    Don’t talk to me about umpiring. As a Swans supporter I hope the ones from Sunday are still in their dressing room quivering in fear of getting lynched!

  5. Jim,

    The rule was changed for the 2011 season. See here.

    This used to be the rule as written:

    17.3.1 Paying Advantage
    Where the field umpire intends to or has signalled that he or she intends to award a free kick to a player, the field umpire may, instead of awarding the free kick, allow play to continue if the field umpire is of the opinion that doing so will provide an advantage to that player’s team.

    17.3.2 Recalling the football
    (a) Where the field umpire has allowed play to continue instead of awarding a free kick to a player, but having done so, it becomes apparent to the field umpire that allowing play to continue did not provide an advantage to the player’s team, the field umpire shall stop play and award the free kick to the player where the infringement occurred.
    (b) This provision shall apply should the siren sound after an umpire has called advantage, but prior to the player disposing of the football.

    All of that was replaced by this for the 2011 season:

    17.3 The Advantage Rule
    Where the field umpire intends to or has signalled that they intend to award a free kick to a player, the field umpire may, instead of awarding the free kick, allow play to continue if the player of the team who receives the free kick has taken the advantage.

    This is, so-called, player-initiated advantage. Note that the umpire’s discretion to recall the ball where advantage did not pan out has been removed.

    I would agree that advantage has been a running sore for the umpiring department all year. The problem, as I’ve discussed on my blog a number of times, is that Australian Rules officiating tradition is to blow the whistle for a free kick — every time. Players are trained from junior ranks to stop when they hear the whistle. This rule, and the interpretation preached byThe Giesch, sees players having to second guess the umpire and take a punt to run off and kick — with the ever-present danger of a fifty-metre penalty if they guess wrong.

    Not only is player-initiated advantage a crock, I’d go as far as to say that advantage per se is anathema to our game.

  6. Dan Crane says

    lets not even start on deliberate out of bounds…………

    i agree 100% jb – its so against what was right, its like not paying the man in front, or not putting your head over the ball…basic things still taught to aspiring players to this day.

  7. Nik Stace says

    I’ve got no problems with the advantage rule – as it was written before they messed around with it this year. As a former field umpire it was always easy to administrate – if a player played on – you geve him slightly more than the usual “prior opportunity” period to dispose of the ball – if things went wrong during that period you call it back – otherwise play proceeds. Now, once the umpire calls play-on – he’s had the “prior opportunity” and often gains no advantage – sometimes gaining a disadcantage!

    What the AFL really need to do when looking at changing any rule is ask this simple question “Will this improve the game?”. In this case , it certainly has not – all it has done has introduced further confusion into what can already be a bit of a grey area.

    My vode is to dump the new rule as soon as possible and revert to the old rule.

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