Patrick Fitzgerald reckons Eddie McGuire should stop whinging but also subscribes to the theory that the umpires are ruining our great game.

Ignore the fact the draft and a preferred draw are part and parcel of football socialism, not being allowed to afford fielding the most expensive AFL team is what really sticks in McGuire’s throat.

So he has been steadily working on undermining the Swans and Brisbane via the salary cap provisions, arguing the Lions have bought success by having a higher salary cap than the honest toilers like Collingwood. Why Sydney hasn’t had similar success has clearly nothing to do with Brisbane being an astute recruiter or anything else obviously. They bought their way to a couple of flags and even worse, not only do they get a lot more money than the Magpies to play with but cost Collingwood a premiership.

So with Grand Final defeat still leaving a bitter taste in the Magpie mouth, Eddie is going to make sure he gets to change the rules. To some extent I feel sympathy with his cause.

Yet interestingly while I thought the Magpies didn’t get the rub of the umpiring decisions in the final quarter that could have swung the game their way, Brisbane were also feeling stitched up by the men in white. Surely this only goes to show that umpiring, while an inexact science, is arguably worse now that it has ever been when both winner and vanquished raise their hackles over the umpiring? So just what is the AFL doing about a game that media and fans alike believe is being murdered by the men in white?

I suppose a case could be made that if the AFL were to blame everything wrong with umpiring on director of umpiring Jeff Gieschen, the same rationale could be applied to AFL chief Wayne Jackson who has overseen a shocker of a year for his administration (which also ultimately oversees umpiring). But the AFL is hardly likely to sack Jackson for a terrible season so why should Gieschen have to wear the flick? Well as a matter of fact why aren’t both of them on their bike?

Between the pair of them they can take collective responsibility for umpires most people in the AFL dare not complain about it without lightening their bank account. It also hasn’t escaped some of us how readily Jackson basked in the initial glow of the media rights deal, but is seldom to be seen these days defending it’s sell out of AFL fans around the country. Kind of like ducking the hard ball get while also looking to give off the hospital pass handball!

While all sorts of theories are being advanced as to why AFL crowds slumped this season and a convenient one for the AFL to say they will review ticket prices, the root causes of the AFL’s smarting at the box office as I see it lies right at the door of umpiring that is ruining the game as a spectacle.

I happen to agree with the Australian’s Patrick Smith who wrote incisively a couple of weeks back when looking at all that has gone so wrong this season, chiefly he felt the game has lost “its majesty”. Not only couldn’t I agree more, the Grand Final proved conclusively to me that the interpretation of the current rules is killing football.

Unfortunately the novelty of an exciting and great Grand Final becomes something of an oxymoron when I argue it’s blinded us to the fact that as football it was an ugly brute of a game. Now with the umpires allowing body on body contact to become little more than a battle of strength rather than skill, never more so than at bounce downs and in the goal square, umpires are allowing the game to become a serial arm wrestling contest. Where in the rules does it state it is permissible for rival players in full view of the three umpires to take firm hold of each other’s arms and appear more body locked than Kate and Lenny on another sinking ship? OK ignore the Titanic analogy but you get my point? This supposedly stealth-like abuse has been rampant and glaringly obvious to seemingly everyone but the umpires for ages. It has been getting worse by the week and what is the AFL doing about it? Looking at ticket prices!

The practice got so bad by the finals that it was a common sight to see two players so locked together that they both brought each other to ground before the ball even reached them. The umpires however remained unmoved.

AFL is now in serious danger of becoming an ultra defensive game where strength replaces skill as a player’s most potent weapon. You might as well call it Rugby League or Gridiron if the umpires aren’t encouraged to start applying the basic tenets of the game as regards legitimate physical contact. Also if three field umpires can get it so horribly wrong as some TV pundits suggested on the weekend, let’s go back to two umpires who should at least show greater consistency or at least we’re thinning the ranks of mediocrity.

Peter Fray

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