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The seemingly endless AFL debate over high contact has escalated after league boss Gillon McLachlan declared players have been 'putting themselves in harm's way'.
The interpretation of the high tackle rule and the tendency for players to draw free kicks by getting as low as possible has ignited the debate many times over previous seasons.
McLachlan's remarks however, come after an AFL edict on Tuesday sent to all clubs that players ducking, dropping into or attempting to shrug a tackle would not earn free kicks for high contact.
Describing the move as 'the same rule, clarified', McLachlan said the rule had to be interpreted so that a player making a legitimate attempt at a fair tackle wasn't penalised.
He also said there had been 'exploitation' of the rule in the past.
The likes of Collingwood's Jack Ginnivan has been at the centre of such debates this season, while in the past players like Western Bulldogs forward Cody Weightman and Geelong's Joel Selwood have also come under scrutiny in similar circumstances.
“I think it’s been made very clear that if you contribute to the high contact – you duck, you raise your arms or drop your knees – if you haven’t had prior then you’re not going to get holding the ball and it’s a ball up and if you’ve had prior and you’re tackled that’s holding the ball," McLachlan told AFL 360.
“It’s been like that, but the clarity hopefully is there.
“I don’t like the exploitation of the rule and I don’t like that – the rule is there to protect players’ heads – they are actually putting themselves in harm’s way.
“The secondary part is just as bad as the first.”
"I think it's one of the biggest rule challenges that the AFL is currently facing."
How does the AFL counter the increase of players intentionally ducking for high contact free kicks? Kane Cornes and Sam Edmund discuss.@SENBreakfast | #AFL pic.twitter.com/qx8ZGotCoP
— SEN 1116 (@1116sen) July 14, 2022
Hawthorn's Dylan Moore and Carlton captain Patrick Cripps (29 each) have received the most free kicks this season, followed by four players with 28.
Port Adelaide great Kane Cornes slammed the league for changing the interpretation of a key rule with the finals on the horizon.
“We’re the only league in the world that changes its interpretation mid-year and doesn’t tell the fans,” he told the Sunday Footy Show.
“How can you have a competition that pays this for two thirds of the season and then all of sudden decides, ‘Nah, that’s not a free kick anymore’.
“I just find it really frustrating that as a league we change interpretations — we won’t tell anyone — just because it’s in the news, he doesn’t get them.”
AFL high contact clarifications kicks off massive debate
Via a statement to clubs and the media, the AFL highlighted three examples, one involving Ginnivan, from rounds 17 and 18 to demonstrate players ducking or shrugging tackles.
The AFL admitted umpires incorrectly paid a free kick to Melbourne forward Kysaiah Pickett after he shrugged a tackle from Port Adelaide captain Tom Jonas.
"First and foremost, players attempting to win the ball must be protected and the onus on duty of care is on the tackler," the AFL's head of umpiring Dan Richardson said.
"However, having won the ball, the ball carrier has a duty of care to not put themselves in a position for high contact.
"Ultimately, the rules do not reward players for putting themselves in vulnerable positions to draw a free kick.
"This is something we prefer not to see in our game at any level.
"We want to be clear, if the umpire believes the ball carrier is responsible for the high contact, then they won't be rewarded."
The clarification has prompted some level of confusion among fans and former players however.
Former West Coast Eagles star Will Schofield said it wasn't ideal to be clarifying things and changing the way games are umpired mid-season.
“I don’t know if you can assess in the heat of the moment what a player is trying to do," he said.
"Some of these examples look like players trying to draw a high tackle but maybe it’s on the tackler just as much to lay a better tackle.
“Some of them are just lazy tackles and the AFL are saying that’s now not a free kick. I’m more confused than I was at the start of the day.”
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