Wait a second … The 2006 rule change behind the AFL’s goal umpiring fiasco

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Hang on a second.

Hang on four or five seconds.

While everyone hunts around for a scapegoat and a solution to Saturday’s goal umpiring fiasco at Adelaide Oval and its far-reaching consequences, no one is looking at the root cause.

Ben Keays celebrates with teammates, but it wasn’t officially a goal.Credit: Getty Images

For most of footy history, when kicking in a player had to wait until the goal umpires had waved their flags. In those faraway pre-ARC days, there was not much chance of a decision being overruled. But that nicety created a short, ritual pause in the game.

It also allowed for house-keeping if necessary; the clearing away of a footy that had bounced back into the field of play, for instance.

In 2006, this changed. The great god of non-stop play had to be appeased. From that day to this, the kick-in can be and usually is taken as soon as the goal umpire has signalled a behind. Augmented by other subsequent rule changes, it means that play before and after a behind is scored often is almost continuous.

The goal umpire’s call.

The burnt offering was made.

But this re-shaping of the rules created flawed protocols, chickens that on Saturday came home to roost in a series of momentously compounding errors.

The goal umpire was wrong, though he was more victim than wrong-doer in a system that militates against him. If he had called a goal, his decision would have been reviewed by the ARC anyway, because all goals are reviewed and if a call is wrong, there is enough time after a goal to make retrospective redress.

But once a goal umpire wrongly calls a behind, the operators in the ARC have between three and six seconds to grasp this possibility and alert the field umpires before the game resumes. It’s unworkable. The so-called score review system reviews only some scores. On Saturday, it couldn’t and didn’t review a score that shaped the final eight.

Ben Keays puzzles with Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks.Credit: Getty Images

The Adelaide players were understandably wrong to celebrate Ben Keays’ “goal” before it was formalised. It was a hell of a kick, by the way.

It was only natural that the Sydney players would seize on the Crows’ innocent misapprehension, kick the ball in immediately and move it as far from goals as they could. But they should never have had the ball at all. And so a match was all but decided and for one club a season was over.

The AFL is a shark; it can move only forward. So apart from an acknowledgement of a mistake in this case, and a suspension for the goal umpire – but only him – don’t expect a revision of the applicable rule.

Sometimes, less haste is more speed. Soccer’s VAR is detested by fans, and sometimes makes for inordinately long interruptions to the game. There was one in the women’s World Cup final on Sunday night. But at least it means a considered decision is made. My only question for soccer is why the clock is not stopped during that interregnum.

Isaac Heeney celebrates Sydney’s win on the siren.Credit: AFL Photos

The AFL are desperate not to add time to their game. The irony is that they just have. Is there a goal umpire now who will not refer any decision about a ball that flies near to a goal-post and its battlement-thick padding? I doubt it. Who could blame them for waving that white flag?

If you’re still not convinced that the procedure following the scoring of a behind is incomplete and ill thought out, contemplate this scenario: late in a crucial match one day, a behind will be scored and the ball will bounce back onto the field. Under the rules, that football somehow becomes invisible, but it will be very much there for the defender who trips over it and costs his team a goal.

Can’t happen? It’s no less likely than a system set up to review possibly incorrect goal umpiring calls that at a vital moment can only review some incorrect scores and let stand a season-moulding one.

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