'Zero tolerance': AFL confusion erupts over umpiring crackdown

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·Sports Reporter
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Brisbane's Harris Andrews had a 50m penalty paid against him in round 4 for raising his arms in protest at a free kick. Pictures: Fox Footy
Brisbane's Harris Andrews had a 50m penalty paid against him in round 4 for raising his arms in protest at a free kick. Pictures: Fox Footy

AFL umpiring is set to come under the microscope after a controversial 50m penalty paid against Brisbane's Harris Andrews prompted a wider debate about what consitutes abuse of an official.

Andrews was hit with the 50m penalty after putting his arms up to protest a free kick that had just been paid against him.

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Prior to the 2022 season the AFL announced cracking down on backtalk to the umpires would be a point of emphasis, however given the subjective nature of the rules some AFL heavyweights have suggested the rules are being applied inconsistently.

Speaking on the Sunday Footy Show, former AFL star Kane Cornes and others on the panel were able to point to several examples from other matches over the Easter weekend which featured behaviour which should otherwise have earned a 50m penalty.

There were several instances of players putting their arms up in protest similarly to Harris during St Kilda's victory over the Gold Coast Suns on Saturday, with Cornes calling for more consistency from the umpires.

Umpire Andrew Stephens said to Harris Andrews after paying the 50m penalty against him that 'Arms out is 50, mate'.

Cornes said the AFL umpires boss needs to clear the air before the issue spirals out of control.

“This is the confusion because the same round, how many examples of arms out I could have found that weren’t a free kick against and certainly weren’t 50m,” he said.

“The umpires’ boss has to come out this week and say, is that just one umpire who’s made an error (with Andrews)? Or is the rule if you put your arms out like that, it’s paid 50?

“It’s one of those grey areas in the game that we have to get out.”

AFL greats raise concerns over umpire disrespect

In addition to Cornes, several other former AFL greats suggested the early season crackdown had begun to slip.

Discussing the Andrews 50m penalty on the Good Friday broadcast, Melbourne legend Garry Lyon said he was supportive of the umpires cracking down on abuse, so long as the approach remained consistent and predictable for players.

“The zero tolerance I‘m absolutely supportive of in round one on this dissension. It went from zero tolerance to five per cent then to about 15 per cent and now they go back to zero tolerance,” Lyon said.

“That‘s why players and fans get annoyed. If you keep it at zero tolerance, Harris Andrews doesn’t go there.

“But he says, ‘Hang on, the last three weeks I’ve been watching it slowly, slowly, slowly coming back’.

“That’s why they get frustrated.”

The AFL has tried to crack down on umpir abuse this season, to mixed results. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
The AFL has tried to crack down on umpir abuse this season, to mixed results. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Few pundits had a problem with the 50m penalty being paid in and of itself - rather it was the lack of consistency in such calls which made it difficult to judge.

Lions legend Jonathan Brown urged umpires to ensure there was 'no room for interpretation' when making those calls, particularly considering the hefty penalty involved.

Former Hawks champion Luke Hodge noted that umpires had been red-hot on abuse during the pre-season games, but those calls hadn't really translated into the regular season.

“They brought it in for the first weekend of the pre-season games and the umpires were so hard on it, but then players have been able to get away week-in week-out," he said.

“That looks like (Harris) just turned around to talk to the umpire, so if they’re gonna do it, they need to be firm on everyone.”

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