MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 15: Security remove a member from the crowd during the round 13 AFL match between the Carlton Blues and the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on June 15, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

What’s wrong with our game?

The past few rounds have highlighted that the AFL must make a stand at the cost of future enjoyment for fans and players alike. The atmosphere generated from the crowd is what makes our game an intense and exciting spectacle we see each week, but the AFL’s crackdown on fans and players are beginning to disrupt centuries worth of tradition. So where did it all go wrong?

At the turn of the century, Shane Crawford was Brownlow medalist, nine stadiums acted as home grounds amongst the 16 teams and the Kangaroos smashed Carlton for the last flag of the 1900s. Times have changed and so have the intentions of the AFL.

The AFL’s clear ambition to rule out un-sportsman like violence, particularly punching and acts associated with violence (jumper punching etc…), has seen the AFL pocket a record number of fines from a record amount of charges.

In 2018 alone, 272 charges were laid amassing $209,000 in fines – the first year on record with over $200,000 worth of fines and greater than 2016-17 combined. 2019 is not looking any better with eight charges laid in Round 13 and a laughable act from Hawks captain Ben Stratton to go with it. Fine costs for low level offenses doubled in 2018 explaining this sudden increase.

It’s incredible to think that Orazio Fantasia would’ve received a larger fine for turning and smacking Stratton than the child’s-play act which was performed on him… can you imagine if Barry Hall or Shane Mumford were being pinched? I felt sorry for Orazio and as he obeyed the new rules around retaliation and punches but was left helpless to defend himself.

Since 2000 there have been over 50+ rule changes and 24 I see as significant – some plausible and some laughable. Who can forget the ‘Substitute Rule’ of 2013 with the green bib or the dramatic ‘Interchange Violation Penalty’ in 2008, even restricting players to a 6/6/6 rule and runners not being able to go out during play in 2019. Yet the modifications and changes are over-complicating playing and viewing, rather than the focus on removing grey areas from the game.

Four-time premiership coach Alistair Clarkson labelled the AFL as the “most complex game in the world” earlier this year to Fox Sports and discussed the difficulties for umpires presented simply by the ‘holding the ball’ rule, calling for clarity on the current rules and not greater complications for umpires.

“There’s still significant grey area around the player with the ball,” he began.

“4000 tackles were laid in the first four rounds [of 2019] and there were 300 infringements for holding the ball so that’s about seven percent of all tackles.

“That suggests to me that 93% of players in tackling situations disposed of the ball correctly – if that isn’t the greyest area of our game (I don’t know what is).”

Whilst ‘holding the ball’ and ‘infringements in marking contests’ were clarified in 2015 it appears umpires are still facing the difficulty of consistency with the guidelines angering fans. But now fans seem to be unable to voice a colourful opinion and the increased security measures are in danger of taking away the pleasure of football for so many.

The devoted fan segments associating with football who flock in their thousands are being belittled by a group of muscly security guards seeking to control all things said by fans. This isn’t Big Brother or 1984, it’s football.

Devoted fans act toward a sense of tribalism with the increased sense of belonging, self-esteem and escapism from day to day activities making fandom so enjoyable for all.

Unusually high fan violence in the opening rounds has rightly called for more security, not the policing of what people say and the interpretation of this has significantly got out of hand.

Campbell Brown highlighted to Channel 7  that the AFL should “stop trying to be the moral compass of society… trying to champion a different social cause every single week.”

“Get back to focusing on what makes the game great… That is the supporters and the actual brand of football played on the field.”

This opinion is echoed by the die-hard leader of the Collingwood cheer squad Joffa Corfe, One of the game’s most loyal and passionate fans. Joffa blasted the control measures around security and questioned the purpose of fans moving forward yesterday to The Age.

“We have been getting this nervous feeling we are no longer required,” Joffa pointed out.

“Any kind of violence must be banished from the game, as with racists and homophobes. We Understand that.

“To sit at the football not knowing when to stand and scream and yell and point the finger is something foreign to us all.”

Despite Gil McLachlan suggesting “We [The AFL] have to listen to our supporters” it appears he feels there is not a lot wrong. The AFL has it’s highest number of attendees to this point in history and the loyal fan bases of the clubs are in no danger of disappearing.

So why increase measures to restrict fan noises and not focus on what’s really important?

I don’t want the AFL to lose its mantra as a fast, physical and exciting game but slowly we are moving into a world where every movement is regulated and supporters are told what they can and can’t say.

Players alike are also being restricted on their actions in the heat of the moment and the AFL are the only ones profiting. This is not footy and we don’t want this moving forward.

Fans are as important as the players and this is universal knowledge.

The AFL has been Australia’s premier sport for over 150 years. The focus has to be on improving current rules rather than adding new ones – stop acting like a business and start reminding people of what our game truly is about… the athletes and their fans.