By Anthony Colangelo
Opinion drives much of the world’s sporting discussion. Whether it is vitriolic, measured or passionate there is no doubt it can cause controversy.
All sports have different approaches to the censorship of opinion. The A-League recently made the choice to allow coaches, players and officials more breathing space in what they can say so as to benefit media coverage.
The AFL on the other hand is generally regarded to be slightly more black and white in their appraisal of opinion. It is reprehensible to accuse or critique certain aspects of the game. Umpiring is probably the most protected. This is for good reasons.
However, following the aftermath of Manchester United’s defeat of Liverpool in the English Premier League two weeks back, what was displayed was a different approach to the AFL. The game was marred by contentious refereeing decisions. Liverpool had a player sent off and in a separate incident gave away a penalty. Both decisions were wrong. As were the decisions to not award Liverpool a penalty and to not send off a Manchester United player.
These were some comments made by Liverpool players and their coach:
Coach Brendan Rodgers, “There were a number of poor decisions that cost us”
Defender Glen Johnson, “In the big games they (referees) are the difference. We expect referees to make the right decisions because we are working hard every day in training. To have it taken away like that you can’t really explain it… It wasn’t a penalty, I didn’t touch him”.
Captain Steven Gerrard on the missed penalty, “But if its clear give it to him…the one against United was a penalty”.
You don’t see comments like this to the media in the AFL and if you did there would be consequences. But is this necessarily a bad thing?
The AFL is often attacked for being too harsh on any dissidence they receive. The Premier League, by looking at the above examples, are obviously more liberal with what they let through. But is there a possibility for middle ground? Can there be a balance where some things are allowed and others are not?
The realities are, in relation to umpiring, that officials need to be encouraged to stick at their craft at grassroots level. The AFL’s stance is that umpire abuse or even criticism needs to be frowned upon so they set the example for others at lower levels to follow.
The AFL are acting in response to abuse that, due to crowd size, can be considered as more pointed and audible in lower leagues.
This also goes for players and coaches. Directly after a game, like the Liverpool comments, such opinions can be extremely inflammatory. When you captain, coach and other players confirm the crowd’s grievances to them, they see it as further validation to continue abuse.
Referee in the Liverpool vs. United match, Mark Howsley has made complaints to police over Twitter abuse after the game. Whilst he may have made mistakes, the coach and players have a responsibility to take the defeat with grace and move on. A measured response from them could somewhat quell a fans frustration.
It is because of this that the AFL is justified in their approach. They need to protect those who make the game possible.
Even if it may make media performance less dramatic and passionate.
- Anthony Colangelo
These thoughts and opinions are those of the author and are not necessarily aligned with those of Nick Maxwell or the people at nickmaxwell.com.au