It’s time to leave the laws of Australian Football alone

Date: June 7, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Is the current brand of AFL football a bad advertisement for our indigenous code?

Former West Coast Eagles premiership coach John Worsfold tends to believe it is hence his suggestion to trial a radical new law.

Many bemoan the congested style of play that is now part and parcel of every coach’s game plan with it not uncommon to see all 36 players in one half of the ground.

Worsfold believes it is worth trialling a new law that would require each team to retain two or three players in each half of the ground.

Not surprisingly the reaction to his suggestion has not been met with enthusiasm with several coaches – Nathan Buckley, Paul Roos and Ross Lyon – slating the idea.

For many it would be akin to introducing a netball type structure to the game or, dare I say it, have the big boys playing the game under similar rules that govern boys and girls under ten years of age who play AusKick each weekend.

In support of Worsfold however are myriad fans who commonly express their dissatisfaction with the way the game is currently played. But should that be the basis for such a dramatic change in the sport?

Like everything in life sport will always go through revolutionary change. Coaches will always be looking to devise new tactics with almost every one of them centred on one thing – winning.

At the end of the day a coach’s tenure in the job is pretty much determined by his win-loss ratio and not whether his side plays an attractive and aesthetically pleasing brand of football.

The sport of Australian Football has gone through many stylistic changes over the years. Many of them have caused great angst to the fans along the way too.

When I was a youngster – I am now 51, for the record – it was regarded as a cardinal sin to kick the ball across one’s defensive goal mouth.

The game back then was all about getting the ball and kicking it in the direction of your own goals. Going backwards was seen as an equal no-no. Yet look at the game nowadays.

Often the ball seems to spend as much time going laterally and backwards as it does forward. And why shouldn’t it?

Almost every other team ball sport learned a long time before Australian Football cottoned on that often the best way to launch an attack is to go sideways or even backwards. Sports like football, hockey, water polo and basketball had long recognized the benefits in lateral and backward movement and used it as a way to springboard attacking forays.

That did not stop many a fan becoming apoplectic though when their Australian Football team did likewise.

In days past the game was primarily all about kicking the ball. Handpassing was really only an option when the path to kick was blocked.

Nowadays the ratio of kicks to handballs in an AFL match would have old-timers turning over in their grave.

What used to be seen as blights on the game have now simply become part and parcel of the way the code is played. There is little doubt in the future we will see further radical changes to the way the sport is conducted.

Some may initially be anathema to the diehard fan. Some may even choose to vehemently disagree with the change for years. But change the game will.

In the recent past those that play guardian to the laws of the game have tinkered with them incessantly.

In the 1980s there were seven law changes; in the 1990s it increased to 11; in the first decade of this century a further 19 alterations or new laws were imposed; and already this decade the rules committee – on which Worsfold now sits – has made seven amendments.

Can anyone tell me another sport which has been so eager to amend its laws at such breakneck speed?

Perhaps it is time that the legislators sat back, drew a deep breath, and let the game simply evolve without any more artificial injections. For mine, I would not tamper with the sport by introducing a form of on-field zoning.

Time alone will tell whether I get my wish.

First published on The Roar – www.theroar.com.au – on 6 June 2014