Umpiring standard is as good as ever, says AFL boss

The standard of umpiring is as good as ever despite widespread outcry, AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon says.

Dillon is staunchly defending new umpires chief Steve McBurney and his cohort amid criticism of decisions influencing the outcome of several games this season.

“I spend a lot of time with the umpires, talking to Steve McBurney who’s heading it up, but also individual umpires,” Dillon told reporters in Adelaide on Tuesday.

“Our umpires, it’s an incredibly tough game to umpire, but we’ve got elite decision-makers, they’re elite athletes, but they continue to work their craft.

“All sports are really difficult to officiate, but I think our sport is one of the hardest ones.

“What our focus on is actually just preparing our umpires and making sure we get the processes right and continue to umpire as well as we can.

“It’s as good as it’s ever been, the umpiring.

“We’re in the second year on the four-umpire system as well, so we’re on a journey with the four-umpire system.”

Dillon said the recent focus on umpiring decisions was a by-product of the closeness of the league.

“The competition is so tight,” he said.

“I don’t understand why, but there’s always been a focus on umpiring – I’m pretty old and it has been around for as long as I’ve been around and will continue to be.

“But I think because the competition is so tight that maybe there is an increased focus on the umpires.”

The AFL hierarchy has in some instances this season publicly admitted mistakes in days following contentious calls.

“But we don’t want to be up every Monday talking about umpiring decisions,” Dillon said.

Essendon coach Brad Scott, a former AFL general manager of football, said the league’s Monday explanations “can make a bit of a rod for your own back”.

“I understand the fans’ frustration,” Scott told reporters in Melbourne.

“And I think the concern for the game more broadly is that there are people who have been involved in the game all their lives who didn’t have a clear understanding of how the rules are adjudicated.

“If that’s the case, what hope has the fan who’s sitting up in the bleachers or watching at home on TV got?

“The more we can be transparent and explain things, probably the better, without going down the rabbit hole of just nitpicking every single decision through every game.”

Recent criticism has followed a mid-season interpretation change to the holding-the-ball rule after an early backlash from clubs and fans.

In May, the AFL directed umpires to shorten the “reasonable time” component of the rule after a range of coaches expressed confusion at how the law was being implemented.

“If we see something that should be changed, then we’ll change it,” Dillon said.

“We don’t want to be just holding on to something just for the sake of it.”


Steve Larkin and Oliver Caffrey
(Australian Associated Press)


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