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Justice or the rules?

The rules for Australian Rules Football (social engineering of the last twenty years not withstanding) are supposed to be about safety first and fairness second. What, then, to make of the events of the last week. As I understand it, Fremantle led St Kilda when the siren went, but the blind white maggots were also deaf, didn't hear it, and let play go on until St Kilda levelled the scores a short time later. The result: A draw.

Now, however, there is talk that a win might be awarded to Fremantle. My sympathy extends to Fremantle. They had a moral victory. Unfortunately for them, the lesson every 8 year old starting out is told: play to the whistle; play to the siren - don't stop until the umpire tells you to - was forgotten by the Freo players. They might deserve a win, but they shouldn't get one. Football history is littered with matches being decided by a wrong umpire's decision. Two weeks ago Melbourne lost when a goal was signalled as touched. Last year Hawthorn lost to Essendon when a goal was given to Essendon off the boot of a Hawthorn player. Mistakes happen.

If the AFL is prepared to say that a mistake which affected the result, no matter how clear-cut and provable, can be overturned on appeal, where do we go from there? It should be that when the siren goes and the umpire raises his arms and blows his whistle to signal the end of proceedings, the result is known. If the AFL allows this appeal, what then when a mark is taken or a goal is kicked fractionally after the siren? And if we accept that, what then for a less black-or-white, but still clear decision? I hate the thin-end-of-the-wedge cliche, but in this case it has to apply.

Moreover, if we are to suspend the rules just because they conflict with a sense of fair play and justice, why bother having rules? Why not just give a broad framework for the game and tell the umpires they can adjudicate as they see fit? Why not give the Australian batsman out unfairly against Bangladesh, just because they are better players and it's not fair? The rules are devised so that they are as fair as possible without trying to predict every single future contingency. If the AFL sees the need, they can add in more rules for next time this happens (if ever). They can't, however, break the rules to favour one team, even if it does provide the just result.

In science, you are not allowed to falsify data to get the result you want. This is what the AFL will be doing if they give Fremantle the points.

Update: The AFL has announced that rules can be suspended whenever they become inconvenient.

Well, in a disgraceful decision, the AFL has announced that the rules will be ignored whenver they conflict with the AFL's sense of justice.

The next step, of course, is that the AFL now puts itself in the position to correct every past or future injustice. Look for Collingwood to start appealing some past grand final losses.

The thing to remember: this isn't an extraordinary event. It is an extreme example of an ordinary one. Officials make mistakes all the time. If these decisions aren't supported, the game loses out.


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