AFL Rd 10 - Collingwood v West Coast
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 24: A Magpies fan abuses the umpires during the round 10 AFL match between the Collingwood Magpies and West Coast Eagles at Melbourne Cricket Ground on May 24, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

There has been a lot of talk and mainly criticism surrounding umpires in 2020.

They have been the focus of a lot of games, especially after the change to the holding the ball interpretation earlier in the season.

Alastair Clarkson made comments after his team’s win over North Melbourne about the lack of holding the ball free kicks. And the next week, the umpires had been instructed to change their interpretation.

“We teach our players to tackle and if a player doesn’t dispose of the ball correctly then the rule book says to blow the whistle and play a free kick,” Clarkson said.

“But the seagulls aren’t spreading out any more because we’re just not paying the free kick, yet we’ll do one for tiggy-touchwood ruck or marking infringement.

“But they won’t pay the ones for holding the ball.”

Over the next few weeks the umpires had a clear focus on holding the ball, in particularly pinning players who were seen to not be making a genuine attempt to dispose of the ball.

This change in interpretation has seen fans and experts become very critical of the standard of umpiring in 2020.

Speaking exclusively to Zero Hanger, AFL Umpires Association CEO Rob Kerr said the fans would benefit from some education on interpretations.

“I think there’s an opportunity to better educate fans around the nuances of interpretations,” he said.

“There’s scope for providing more information and education to supporters.

“Maybe an end of round discussion… anywhere you can provide clarity, that’s helpful.”

Mr Kerr said that the umpires have had to make significant sacrifices this season and that fans should be understanding.

“Fact is umpires have uprooted, left home and relocated to hubs the same way players have.

“Some umpires drove to South Australia from Melbourne to then go into a strict 2 week quarantine to allow the game to restart.

“AFL Teams have their coaches with them, where as umpires are in a different location to the large bulk of their coaches. Umpires aren’t allowed to train in groups at all, only in pairs.

“It’s a tougher year to deliver the coaching that would accompany a normal season.”

Speaking on the change to the holding the ball interpretation, Mr Kerr said that it doesn’t make the umpire’s jobs any easier and perhaps the AFL hadn’t considered how this decision would affect them.

“When there’s a shift in interpretation, like any new skill there’s going to be a little more (adjusting) time, that’s made harder by the fact the coaches aren’t able to work as closely with the umpires.”

Mr Kerr believes the changes to interpretation has been a significant challenge for umpires.

“Having seen how it’s played out this year I feel the association should have a view on it going forward, it’s a challenge to ask umpires to alter the way they adjudicate in the space of a week. You wouldn’t expect a team to change their game plan in a week.”

The umpires have always copped flak from fans but, Kerr believes the AFL aren’t considering the impact key interpretation decisions have on umpires.

“I’m not sure that there’s always thought around ‘what’s this mean in terms of it may play out from an umpires perspective.”