If you believed everything you read, and
you only read the back page of The Australian this morning, you could be forgiven for thinking AFL football is a sport
in crisis. Although dramatic, it may not be far from the truth.

At the centre of the “crisis” is the new
kick-in rule, which allows players to grab the ball and boot it back
into play
without waiting for the goal umpires to finish waving their flags. It’s an attempt by the AFL to speed things up.

As opponents of the new rule point out,
that break in play gave players a chance to take a few deep breaths and teams a
chance to set up for the kick-in. That’s gone now, with both players and
coaches suggesting it will take a great physical toll on players, will lead to
fewer physical contests, and possibly greater flooding.

The chorus of criticism hit its highest
note yesterday when Collingwood defender James Clement, one of the most
reasonable voices in the competition, said the new rules had created a “monster”. “The game as far as I know has never been
richer, has never been more popular so why tinker with something that’s
travelling beautifully?” he said.

This raises the question, is the protest
actually about the AFL fixing something that wasn’t broken?

The AFL, like the ICC, can
change rules to fix flaws in the game, and should do so sparingly. In this
case, respecting the traditions of the game seems to have come a distant second
to remedying that most heinous of crimes – looking a bit slow on TV. Is it any wonder then that great players
from the past, now working as coaches, and current players are objecting so
strongly to this rule?

Rather than the rule itself being a bad
idea, is the protest actually about the AFL tampering with the
game unnecessarily? Or worse, performing cosmetic surgery on something that is often
at its best when it’s also at its ugliest?

If the players and coaches are right and
the rule proves a dud, the AFL will have a genuine crisis on its hands.

Peter Fray

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