General Manager Football Operations Mark Evans on Monday wrote to all 18 AFL clubs to advise of a stricter interpretation around players leading with their heads into a tackling player, to apply immediately from upcoming round 10 matches this weekend.
Mr Evans said the AFL umpiring department, headed by national director Wayne Campbell and head coach Hayden Kennedy, had been consulting with all club football departments in recent weeks after the AFL flagged in mid-May that it was increasingly concerned with players leading into contact with their heads in a bid to win a free kick.
“The onus is on the tackler to tackle the player with ball legally. What we have begun to see in the game is the player with the ball driving his head toward a tackler or leaning into a tackler in order to receive a free kick,” Evans said.
“The AFL has significant concerns around player safety with this tactic and the interpretation change was considered an important enough issue by the Laws of the Game Committee to deal with in-season.
“The change of interpretation that will be immediately enacted from this weekend of matches, going forward for the rest of the season, requires the player with the ball to not contribute to high contact by driving or leading with his head into a tackling player,” he said.
Under the changes, the following will apply:
- Any movement where a player drives or leads with their head into a stationary or near-stationary tackler will be deemed as a drive and will be umpired as the player with the ball having had ‘prior opportunity’;
- The player must immediately kick or handball or a free kick for holding the ball, under the prior opportunity rule, will be paid against him.
Evans said the tackling player will still be required not to be reckless or indiscriminate with his approach to the player with the ball, as the changes were specifically focssed on the player with the ball initiating contact with his head.
Separately, umpires will be instructed that there is no change to what constitutes a shrug of a tackle, or a player lowering himself into a tackle, as has been adjudicated through the season.
“The AFL is seeking to encourage good technique when players are picking up the ball by turning their bodies to protect their heads,” Mr Evans said.
A number of examples of the interpretation change that the umpires will be working towards have been placed on AFL.com.au while Wayne Campbell will also appear on Fox Footy’s AFL360 on Monday night to detail those same examples.
As background for all media, this law was previously addressed by the AFL Commission on the eve of the 2014 season when the following changes were made:
High contact – Players leading with the head – The aim is to discourage players from seeking to draw forceful head high contact:
- A player who drives his head into a stationary or near stationary player shall be regarded as having had prior opportunity. If legally tackled following this he will be required to legally dispose of the ball or he will be penalised
- Where a player ducks into a tackle and is the cause of high contact the umpire will call play on.
So they’re not addressing the problem at all. Great.