AFL approves medical substitution for 2021

·3-min read

AFL players substituted off through injuries unrelated to concussions will not face a mandatory 12-day break under the league's new medical substitute rule.

On Wednesday, the AFL approved a medical substitution just a day out from the 2021 season opener.

Clubs will have a 23rd man in their squad but that player will only be activated into the match if there is a game-ending injury, with a club medical officer to determine if a player is unfit to continue.

"A player who was substituted out of the game with concussion will be sidelined for a minimum of 12 days," AFL football boss Steve Hocking said at the MCG on Wednesday.

"When a doctor substitutes a player out of the game with an injury, other than concussion, the doctor at the time would be deeming the injury to be one of a nature that would see a player sidelined for a minimum of 12 days."

The idea for a substitute originated around concussion, after the league in January tightened rules over medical head knocks, but coaches were unanimous in wanting a substitution for any serious injury.

If an AFL player is deemed to have a medically diagnosed concussion they will now automatically be sidelined for 12 days - but Hocking confirmed the same mandatory break didn't apply to other injuries.

Therefore, if a player was substituted out of a match with a game-ending injury other than concussion, they could conceivably play the next week.

"In the case of a player potentially recovering sooner than expected during the week, then the club doctor can actually provide a medical certificate and further proof, if required," Hocking told reporters.

Hocking confirmed there were sanctions in place in a bid to deter manipulation of the rule.

"The safeguards are within the AFL rules - it's conduct unbecoming," he said.

"We can actually apply that at any point we need to."

Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir was in favour of the new rule, and is confident it won't be exploited.

"It will be up to the clubs and the coaches not to rort the rule," Longmuir said.

"It's there for the benefit and the health and safety of our players, it's not there for us to use strategically. We need to be aware of that."

The AFLPA had been critical of the move, declaring any change to playing numbers in a game-day squad should have happened much earlier, but Blues coach David Teague backed the change.

"I think they have added the sub to be make it fairer if you lose a player, so why limit it to concussion?," he told reporters on Wednesday.

The substitute will be confirmed 60 minutes prior to a game starting and can only be chosen from the listed emergency players.

They can be activated at any time of the game, including if teams have completed their 75 interchanges.

The substitute will receive a full match payment - outside the cap - and would receive a premiership medal if they were a member of a winning grand final team, even if they didn't take the field.

Games as substitutes will count towards players' career games tallies, even if they are not activated, while substitutes would also be eligible to play at state league level that week.

Between 2011 and 2015, the AFL cut the interchange from four players to three but a substitute was allowed into the game for any reason.