Whether it is the MRP or the MRO, the way the AFL has reviewed reportable offences since the introduction of a match review has come under severe scrutiny and suffered a lot of controversy. Other sports seem to have a method figured out that works well, and the AFL would do well to adopt these approaches and bring back consistency and fairness to their process. Here are five ways the AFL can improve its Match Review System.
Not have an MRO
Beginning this season the Match Review Officer, or MRO, has been Michael Christian, the man tasked with examining reported offences throughout the weekend of footy and charging them accordingly. Many thought that this would be better than the previous iteration of the Match Review Panel, but it has only led to more issues and more inconsistency.
One man cannot have sole responsibility for a task of this magnitude, while the Panel had its flaws at least there were differing opinions, so multiple interpretations can be looked at before coming to a decision. Every other sporting code has a team looking at such acts of conduct; it cannot be down to one man.
Look at each incident on its own
One of the big reasons for inconsistency is that there has been too many precedents set, and every incident follows this precedent. The problem is that not every instance is the same, not every case can be treated as such. Look at the EPL for example, aside from extreme cases; violent conduct is violent conduct regardless of the situation.
Last season, former Manchester United star Zlatan Ibrahimovic was retrospectively banned for an elbow on Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings, the standard length of a ban for violent conduct. Other factors weren’t taken into account as they didn’t matter, Ibrahimovic threw an elbow and connected, and that is all that was needed to ban him and rightly so.
Medical reports shouldn’t play a factor
This is more of a continuation from the previous point, but a player getting concussed should not play a factor. Yes, it is perfectly understandable that the AFL wants to protect player’s heads to avoid concussions, but a concussion shouldn’t be the reason a player gets banned, it should be the act itself. Earlier this season during a clash between North Melbourne and Hawthorn, Tom Mitchell was reported for hitting Todd Goldstein in the head, off the ball no less. Mitchell avoided a suspension and many cite the reason being the Goldstein hadn’t suffered any head injury.
Compare that to the Ibrahimovic case in the EPL, and a medical report had no effect, as the FA saw the act as violent conduct. While Todd Goldstein was lucky to avoid a concussion, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Tom Mitchell struck him in the head, therefore committing an act of violent conduct. He cannot escape a ban simply because Goldstein was lucky to not get injured. If the AFL is serious about concussions, then they should definitely ban any cheap shots off the ball at the very least.
Have some consistency
Medical reports aside, even the AFL cannot consistently follow them. While for the most part, a player receiving a concussion or serious injury has been a deciding factor in the offending player receiving a suspension, it hasn’t always been the case. Take the game between North Melbourne and Hawthorn again and the incident between Ryan Burton and Shaun Higgins. Burton caught Higgins with a head-high bump that left the Kangaroo on the ground and was carried off the field on a stretcher having received a concussion and needing surgery to repair a busted lip.
According to the precedent set by the AFL, Burton should’ve been suspended, it was a reckless bump, the contact was head high, it was high impact and injured Higgins, yet Ryan Burton only received a fine. While the idea of a medical report playing a factor isn’t the best thing for the AFL, if that’s what they’re serious about then they need to show consistency week in and week out.
Understand that it is a contact sport
Despite the general aim to protect the players and fairly so, you must remember that footy is still a contact sport at its heart. We’re all for the protection of players, but a sport that involves grown men running into each other to win possession of a ball, a game where bumping and tackling is allowed, is bound to have some big hits and injuries. The debacle around the idea of a dangerous tackle has been a shambles. Players are taught from a young age to pin the arms and bring the player down strong, if the player that is getting tackled happens to hurt themselves, it’s a shame but it’s a part of footy.
The Nic Natanui tackle on Karl Amon was perhaps the most baffling case of this during the season. Michael Christian argued that Natanui should’ve accounted for his size when going in hard over Port Adelaide’s Karl Amon, however if you’ve played a game of football then you’ll know that no one has time to think about these things, it’s pure instinct, and Nic Nat was just going for a tough tackle. It’s a shame Amon ended up with a concussion, sure, but that’s footy, you can’t pride yourself on being a tough, contact sport and then suspend a player for utilising a skill that’s been around since the game’s inception. The NFL allows hits to the knee and to the head, and lets the players go after each other, as they are aware it’s a part of the game, only cracking down on cases where the player acted in an unsportsmanlike manner.
If the AFL wants to protect players, then outlaw bumps and tackles that are clearly made with an intent to hurt, are unsportsmanlike and not in the spirit of the game, not bumps and tackles where a player is simply playing hard and trying his best for his team to win.
These are the five best ways the AFL can resolve its Match Review Process, if they have any hope of turning it around from the mess it currently is.