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The AFL have made changes to the interpretation of the protected area rule, attempting to prevent the exploitation of the rule for a 50-metre penalty by teams.

Umpires are no longer set to pay a 50m penalty when two opponents enter the protected area together and a "split" occurs, which the league believes players have been exploiting in recent weeks to earn a penalty.

Now, when a defender remains in the protected area without their opponent, no penalty will be drawn but they will be required to immediately vacate the area.

The new interpretation is set to come into effect from this weekend onwards.

AFL Head of Umpiring Dan Richardson explained the new stance on Tuesday.

"The protected area rule is designed for the kicker to have options to move the ball," Richardson said.

"It is having the desired effect, however there have been more and more instances of players deliberately running their opponent into the zone with the intention of getting split and/or drawing a 50m penalty.

"If this 'split' of players happens, providing the defender moves to vacate the area, the umpires have been instructed to no longer apply a 50m penalty.

"Feedback is important, and we continually listen to a whole range of stakeholders, and this clarification will provide opportunity for the rule to be applied as intended."

A controversial free kick awarded against Matt Guelfi during Essendon's 35-point win over St Kilda in Round 14 was highlighted by the league as an example of what would no longer be paid.

In the incident, Guelfi entered the protected area with opponent Jack Sinclair, when the two split beside fellow Saint Jack Billings, Guelfi was hit with a 50-metre penalty due to his proximity from his opponent.

The new interpretation will be in action as Round 16 gets underway on Thursday night.