The cover of the Age Sport section featured
a digital image of a can of worms. The Hun back page screeched “Pandora’s Box
open”. In The Australian and everywhere else, St Kilda President Rod Butterss
spoke eloquently of his fears for the game, as 120 years of “the umpire is
always right” went out the window.

Crikey looked out the window and was
astonished to see that the world was still turning.

Despite all these arguments about the
dangers of the AFL Commission diving into the game and manufacturing results, despite
the rules, do you know what the long-term effect will be of yesterday’s
decision to award Fremantle the four points from Tasmania’s Silent Siren farce?
Absolutely nothing.

Horses will not try to eat themselves and
the sky will collapse onto the MCG. In fact, everybody will get on with the
game as they always have.

We agree with AFL chairman Ron Evans.
This was a one-off occasion and the decision to overturn the “draw” is the
right one. It was clever and surprisingly mature of the AFL to admit a dodgy
siren was their fault, not part of the flow of play. Evans and co had the
courage to take the rap, and step in on the result.

Or as Patrick Smith put it, “You could
argue that the spirit of sport has prevailed over the rules of the game. That
is hardly a bad thing.”

The unavoidable bottom line is that,
watching live on the day, and watching the tape since, Fremantle was in front
when the siren sounded. The Freo players heard it and celebrated as Saint
shoulders began to drop. This was not a minor and debatable “human error”
situation as 99.9% of these occasions are. This was no Wayne Harmes
incident from 1979. This wasn’t a case of whether a mark was taken a nanosecond
before or after the siren sounded. Not a question of whether a player was a
millimetre over the boundary line and allowed to play on.

As Evans said: “There are interpretations
and mistakes made in every game. This was a procedural matter off the field
that can be remedied.”

The funniest thing has been that
commentators everywhere have spoken solemnly about the sacrosanct nature of the
“rules of the game” and how, even if Freo was clearly, absolutely, and
obviously stiffed, the draw should have stood to protect the written laws of
the game.

Would these be the same rules of the game
that seem to be changed, on an AFL whim, every second week? The same rules that were shuffled over
summer to ensure the style of footy that won Sydney last year’s
flag in the best Grand Final in years will now be rendered useless? Those

I’m not arguing that rules aren’t
important, I’m just saying the League has made it clear over the past few years
that they are elastic. Why should they suddenly be untouchable in a uniquely
clear case of a wronged team like this one?

We should all be happy that St Kilda didn’t take action to really force a showdown between the rules and what’s right.