When Andrew Demetriou faced the media yesterday to speak about Blake Caracella’s neck injury, he had two choices. There was the easy path, one that would have appeased those shocked by the incident, and the difficult path, one that more or less stated facts, however unpopular they are in the broader football community. Demetriou had no hesitation in choosing the latter.

Yes, his clipboard-carrying media managers may have slapped their foreheads in disbelief when he said, “The game is played at breakneck speed these days”, but Demetriou chose to defend the sport he governs rather than make excuses for it. “I think it highlights and demonstrates again that this is game is a game of physical contact,” he said. “I think we’re doing enough (to protect players), but with the high tempo of our game, the speed, the athletes and they way they’re finely tuned, you’ll still unfortunately have, from time to time, those incidents.”

Indeed, Demetriou was speaking more like an ex-footballer than the CEO of billion dollar sport. Parents may have preferred to hear him talk about rule changes and protecting the player, but his comments were more about aligning expectations with reality. And the reality is, accidents happen.

It’s the unpredictability of such incidents that makes changing the rules so hard. When Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie collided in Sri Lanka, nobody called for the ICC to ban batsmen from hitting balls in the air because it endangers fielders. All involved accepted that it was a freak accident.

Jeff White, the Melbourne ruckman who suffered severe facial injuries late last year in a similarly unpredictable incident, supported Demetriou’s comments, saying: “You’ve just got to get out there and play because the chances of it happening again are very remote.”

While there’s no doubt footy takes a hit when a player goes down with and injury like Caracella’s or White’s, there’s no evidence to suggest immediately changing the rules will stop it from happening again.

In fact, the one thing everyone agrees on is that a raft of reactionary rule changes could be far more damaging to the game.

Peter Fray

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