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‘Lay off’: Call to end umpire bashing

Richmond vs Hawthorn..
Field umpire Alex Whetton with Richmond’s Ben Miller. Picture: Michael Klein

AFL coaches have united in a call to “lay off” umpire bashing after a week of criticism and accusations that the standard of officiating is at an all-time low.

The AFL has walked away from weekly clarification of umpiring decisions despite growing criticisms of sometimes match-defining mistakes and calls for a serious inquiry into the whistleblowers.

Players have expressed concern over tweaks to the holding-the-ball rule, with weekly inconsistencies raising eyebrows, while the league admitted to two crucial errors in last week’s clash between Essendon and Geelong, with one resulting in a goal to the Cats.

League chief executive Andrew Dillon was adamant this week that umpiring standards were “as good as it’s ever been”, comments that raised eyebrows throughout the AFL community.

“We’re in the second year on the four-umpire system as well, so we’re on a journey with the four-umpire system,” he said.

“I don’t understand why, but there’s always been a focus on umpiring. I’m pretty old and it has been around for as long as I’ve been around and will continue to be.”

AFL Rd 8 - Richmond v Fremantle
Richmond supporters vent their frustrations at the umpires. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

But with the umpires in the spotlight, Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin declared it was time to take the focus off them.

“I just think we need to lay off them,” he said.

“It’s an incredibly tough game to umpire and we are still working through some interpretations and changes and how they come to life and how we continue to get better at them.

“They are no different to anyone else. They have a tough job in our industry and we just have to give them some space and make sure they continue to improve and get it right.

“Andrew Dillon is right, support the people who are in our industry and let them get to work and get better.”

Four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson, who has had a rocky relationship with umpires over his long career, said he felt “sorry” for the umpires.

“It feels like the poor umps get bashed every week by everyone - including at different stages - the coaches,” Clarkson said.

“Not that we deliberately try to bash them, but things happen in the game, the emotion of the game. They’ve (umpires) got the toughest job.

AFL Rd 13 - Hawthorn v GWS
AFL field umpire Brett Rosebury speaks to Hawthorn’s James Sicily. Picture: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images

“As if the game wasn’t hard enough beforehand and now we’ve just added another complexity to what is a really, really difficult game to umpire,” he said.

“I just really feel sorry for them.”

Clarkson even suggested a league-wide forum to discuss how to make the job easier for umpires could be worthwhile.

“Anything we can do to make our game simpler to adjudicate, whether it is to do with the holding-the-ball rule, or the stand rule, I think there’s ways that we could take away a lot of grey out of our game,” he said.

“It needs the views of coaches, media, supporters, the administrators of the game to get together into a forum and say ‘how can we make this easier for the umps’ rather than smack them over the head every time they make a decision.

“Even the non-decisions they’ve got to make is still a decision, to not blow the whistle, and that makes it really tough.”