Brisbane Lions star Eric Hipwood has dodged a suspension for careless contact with an umpire, after the AFL Tribunal opted instead to fine the 24-year-old for the incident.
Hipwood was referred directly to the tribunal in the wake of Brisbane's win over the Western Bulldogs last week, after he pushed opponent Ryan Gardner into umpire Jacob Mollison.
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The AFL were arguing for a one or potentially even two week ban for Hipwood, arguing it was incorrect to label Hipwood's actions as 'careless'.
However the Tribunal opted to only hand Hipwood a $2500 fine for his troubles, finding that his conduct had been careless, but it had not been a 'high' level of carelessness, not enough to justify a suspension.
The decision raised plenty of eyebrows in the AFL world, perhaps none moreso than of AFL 360 host Mark Robinson.
Labelling the decision 'crap', Robinson said he didn't understand how the Tribunal could rule what he believed to be an obvious and deliberate shove of his opponent into the umpire to be 'careless'.
“This is not careless contact that we see with an umpire at the centre-square, this is careless contact of you pushing a person into an umpire. It’s a major difference," Robinson said.
“I know people disagree with me, but I am staggered again.
“They’ve found him guilty of doing something you’re not allowed to do and it’s fallen under ‘oh well, it’s contact with an umpire’, that’s crap.”
Hipwood's tribunal appearance proved to be divisive among many AFL observers and fans, with many taking to social media to applaud the tribunal's 'common sense'.
Robinson though, was not convinced.
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He said it was a further sign the AFL was letting down umpires, despite having made several moves this season to reduce instances of umpire abuse.
“I’m not headhunting Eric Hipwood, but in a year of looking after umpires - and the AFL at times has let umpires down - to have this happening, I’m a bit bewildered. I might be wrong, but I’m bewildered,” Robinson said.
“They couldn’t have found it deliberate because if it is he should be sitting for five or six weeks. If we found out Eric Hipwood deliberately pushed him into the umpire, he’s gone, so I don’t know why we’re asking for two weeks, they should’ve been asking for five weeks.”
Brisbane Lions star Eric Hipwood escapes AFL tribunal with fine
Tribunal chairman Jeff Gleeson, who said the incident was "quite troubling" when viewed from certain angles, said Hipwood's carelessness was not high.
Gleeson said the behind-goals camera view showed Gardner had "deviated and all but stopped" as both players ran towards the Lions' attacking 50m.
He found while Hipwood breached his duty of care to the umpire, his action alone had not caused the incident.
Brisbane's defence centred around their belief Gardner initiated the contact by running to block the Lion, with Hipwood bracing for the impact.
Hipwood, who's never been suspended in his AFL career, argued he wasn't aware the umpire was nearby until the contact was made.
"I would never do that ... I'd never do that in any sport at all," he said.
"I've played sport since I was six years old and never had conflict or contact with an umpire throughout my career."
AFL lawyer Nick Pane paused vision of the incident where Hipwood was looking at Bailey where umpire Mollison was directly behind him, and suggested he must have known he was there.
"Whilst he denies having vision of the umpire the footage suggests he must have had vision and been aware of the position of the umpire," he said.
"A fine is far from adequate when an umpire has been subjected to the level of carelessness ... and degree of force in the collision," he said.
Hipwood's lawyer Adrian Anderson said Gardner running across his opponent was prohibited contact and against the laws of the game.
He also referred to an incident from earlier this year where Fremantle's Michael Walters pushed a GWS player into the path of an umpire and noted it was ruled careless contact despite seeing the umpire was present.
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