Will the AFL Go Red?

Off the back of the devastating incident between Andrew Gaff, the West Coast Eagles star mid-fielder, and Andrew Brayshaw, Fremantle Dockers young gun, the AFL community has once again dived into the debate of whether to introduce a red card or send off system into the game.

During the West Coast v Dockers game on Sunday 5 August in Perth, Gaff unintentionally struck Brayshaw with a closed fist, leaving him with a broken jaw, split lip and many displaced teeth (Quartermine, 2018).

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Pictured Left to Right: Andrew Gaff shortly after; the incident itself; Andy Brayshaw following the hit

The AFL are planning to table a proposal to the AFL commission over the off-season regarding the introduction of a red-card-send-off system. Under this review process, players may be sent to a ‘sin bin’, similar to that of Rugby League, while the incident is assessed by an independent officer (Beveridge, 2018). Following an assessment, the player in question would then receive an in-game red card or be allowed to continue to play, with the disciplinary committee to decide on appropriate consequences post-game (Beveridge, 2018). The exact punishment of a red card during a game is yet to be determined, however, it could mean the player is excluded from the remainder of that game. This system ensures that on-field umpires are not exposed to further unwanted scrutiny, with a person or small team at the ground or at AFL House able to watch vision from varying camera angles to make informed, calm and rational decisions (Walsh, 2018a). Alternatively, the AFL are also considering allowing teams to have substitute players to replace those who have been forced out of a game due to a non-football action (Beveridge, 2018). Ultimately, in introducing such a system, the AFL are attempting to deter players from off-the-ball violence, even if it is, on most occasions, unintentional, and protect and preserve player safety.

Many current and former players have openly expressed their opinion on this topic following the Brayshaw-Gaff incident. AFL legends such as Chris Judd, Bob Murphy and Leigh Matthews, all of whom endured their fair share of off-the-ball violence over their careers, have voiced their support of the introduction of a red card system (Vernel, 2018; Walsh, 2018b). Bob Murphy, former premiership winning Western Bulldogs captain, said that this behaviour gives the game a “bad look and the AFL should be concerned as it is being mimicked in lower levels” (in Walsh, 2018b). Current players including Melbourne captain Nathan Jones, star Adelaide forward Josh Jenkins, and 2018 Brownlow Medal Favourite Shaun Higgins, have also shared their support for this system (Walsh, 2018b; Smale & McGarry, 2018). Nathan Jones stated that “it’s not like you see that [the Brayshaw-Gaff incident] every day… but in particular for an incident like that, I think it is warranted… I’m all for it” (in Walsh, 2018b).

Andrew Gaff even expressed his support for red cards, of which he would have received after his strike on Brayshaw, had such a system been in place.

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Andrew Gaff expresses his support for red cards, after his devastating strike on Andy Brayshaw

On the other hand, AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan is somewhat opposed to a red-card system declaring that “it’s personal view that it’s got some challenges” (in Walsh, 2018b). Other players have also expressed their opposition to the proposal, sharing that physicality is a huge part of the sport and losing the contest would mean losing the spirit of AFL (Vernel, 2018).


Personally, I sit on the fence on this issue. Player safety and welfare should absolutely be the main priority of any professional league, however, I can just see this system becoming an over-the-top debacle, with players being given red cards for soft contact. The physical aspect of the sport with no protection or padding, makes it an extremely unique sport and deterring contact to an extremely minimal standard would essentially ruin the sport. Yet, incidences like that of Brayshaw and Gaff, show that some sort of in-game penalty is needed to discourage this off-the-ball extreme violence, whether it is intentional or not. In my opinion, the AFL need to find an in-game penalty system of some sort that deters this devastating contact, but will continue to allow for intense physical contests and develop the elite nature of the sport. Whether that is a red-card-send-off system remains the big question, one that the AFL Commission will discuss in great depth over this off-season.

 

References

Beveridge, R. (2018). AFL to consider red-card rule for 2019. Retrieved from http://www.afl.com.au/news/2018-10-03/afl-to-consider-redcard-rule-for-2019

Quatermine, B. (2018). Andrew Brayshaw suffers fractures jaw and displaced teeth after being punched by Andrew Gaff. Retrieved from https://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/fremantle/andrew-brayshaw-suffers-fractured-jaw-and-displaced-teeth-after-being-punched-by-andrew-gaff/news-story/331e9b8696e08c5f6f3d867e527c2ab3

Smale, S., & McGarry, A. (2018). Red cards, black cards and sin bins: Should the AFL look at tougher options when players are knocked out of a game?. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-18/gray-andrews-cases-spotlight-on-afl-should-look-sendoff-options/9998670

Vernel, B. (2018). Should the AFL introduce red cards? Retrieved from https://www.sen.com.au/news/2018/06/28/should-the-afl-introduce-red-cards/

Walsh, M. (2018a). How a send-off rule could work in the AFL. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com.au/afl/story/_/id/24294942/afl-andrew-gaff-west-coast-how-red-card-send-rule-work

Walsh, C. (2018b). AFL to consider red-card penalty for foul play. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/afl/afl-to-consider-redcard-penalty-for-foul-play/news-story/63973edea1475082f0b9ecc4fa897668

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