Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon has confirmed he will be lobbying the AFL at the end of the season to make changes to the match review panel/tribunal system in the wake of a number of highly contentious cases this season.
The most recent example came on the weekend when Bulldogs forward Jack Redpath received a three-week suspension for a high, open-handed hit to GWS co-captain Phil Davis with seemingly minimal force.
Redpath’s bad record and an unsuccessful tribunal challenge contributed to the hefty sanction.
Gordon, an experienced lawyer, has a number of concerns about how the AFL judiciary system works from a legal point of view, particularly with the gradings of impact and intent but also with the protection of the head.
“We will at the end of this season be communicating with the AFL about our concerns,” Gordon told SEN on Thursday.
“Our concerns go both ways. We are concerned sometimes about penalties being too harsh but we’re also concerned about the need for players to be protected.
“I hope that when the AFLPA go to the AFL, as they say they propose to do, they’ll remember that as the players’ association their foremost concern is for the health and safety of their members.
“The system of penalising in particular contact with the head is a system one of whose main purposes is actually to protect players’ health and safety.
“There have been a number of changes to the rules which have been designed around that – the sling tackle, head-high contact with charges and shepherds, etcetera – and we’ve made those changes for a reason because we’ve had more and more understanding of the long-term impact of concussion and head injuries.
“I want to see players’ health and safety in particular with respect to contact to the head more protected and I want to see more consistency with the MRP in future. So I hope that all parties can work together to do that, but we will be making submissions to the AFL about our own experiences and what we see as ways in which the system can be improved at the end of the season and we won’t be reacting to particular results that may have come out last week or any week during the season.”
Gordon said that the grading system was “inappropriate” and each case should be judged on its merits by qualified people.
“[Former AFL football operations boss] Adrian Anderson’s changes were a genuine attempt to try and get more predictability and ranking like incidents with like incidents,” Gordon said.
“In my own view, there’s been an inappropriate focus on trying to achieve that sort of consistency by codifying and grading levels of intent and levels of impact.
“I would prefer a system where you’ve got experienced people of both in terms of the law and adjudicating decisions and in football who simply looks at a case on its merit.
“No degree of intent is ever 100 percent the same with another and no degree of impact is ever the same.
“It’s very rare that you get any event that’s reportable which is precisely on par with another one. What I think we need is some judicial officers with common sense and experience in football who can look at it and make a decision not in accordance with a pre-imposed paradigm of gradings of intent and gradings of impact.”
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley agreed there was a lack of consistency at the MRP but when considering an overhaul, “we need to be careful what we wish for”.
“I’m not sure we’re seeing adequate or commensurate penalties for the right actions,” Buckley said.
“I think that there’ll be a few interesting discussions with the clubs and the league around where the game is going, how we can take away some of the acts that we don’t want to see in the game but not be heavy-handed with some of those penalties as well because some of them just don’t add up to me.”
Buckley said having a “box-ticking” system, in which intent and impact are graded, would be OK if the right questions were being asked.
“There’s not a lot of grey area in it and I think even the Redpath appeal probably shows it’s fairly cut and dried, and you don’t see clubs appealing that often because there’s not a lot of wriggle room,” he said.
“That’s for the AFL and footy operations to work out and they’ve got a tough job.”