Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Questionable AFL Rules: the 'deliberate' out of bounds rule, and determining intention.

I thought I'd do something different for a change. For those of my readers that are interested in the AFL, please feel free to read. For those that aren't, then please be patient with me.

I'm noticing that a lot of the 2013 AFL Rules are resulting in questionable decisions by umpires. One rule in particular that I consider to be of questionable application is the 'deliberate' out of bounds rule. This is the rule which prohibits a player from intentionally forcing a ball across a boundary line.

The 2013 AFL Rules provide as follows in relation to this rule:
'15.6 Free kicks - relating to out of bounds 
A free kick shall be awarded against a Player who:... 
(c) intentionally Kicks, Handballs or forces the football over the Boundary Line without the football being touched by another Player;...'
The arbitrariness of the application of this rule is a common complaint that I hear [normally screamed into my ear while I am watching the football at the MCG]. I too believe the application of the rule is likely to be arbitrary. This is because the umpire is placed in the unfortunate position of having to ascertain intention, based on the actions of the players. This brings into focus two ways of determining intention. The first is finding out what the player actually intended to do. The second is inferring what the player intended to do on the basis of his actions.

The umpire cannot possibly determine what the player actually intended to do. First, the umpire cannot read the player's mind. Second, if the umpire stopped the player and asked the player what the player intended to do, that would unreasonably stop play, and there is a reasonable to very good chance that the player will protest his innocence in any event. 

Therefore the only thing the umpire can do is ascertain what the player intended to do based on the player's actions. That is, the umpire needs to infer, based on the actions of the player having acted in the way that the player did, whether there was an intention to kick, handball or force the football over the boundary line.

However, it is entirely unsatisfactory to have a rule which requires an umpire to determine intention based on the actions of the player. I say this for the following reasons:
  • Umpires are doing things on the run and whilst under pressure, and have very little time to mentally absorb and compute the actions of a player and attribute a particular intention based on those actions.
  • Often the umpire is not near the play when a player has caused the ball to move over the boundary line, which brings into question whether the umpire has seen all of the actions of the player which allows the umpire to infer a particular intention.
  • Each umpire is different and brings a different experience to the assessment of a player's intention. Many umpires have played football before, and each has experienced football to different degrees. They will each bring their own experience to the assessment of a player's intention, and this will result in different assessments of what a player's intention is when a ball is caused to go over a boundary line.
  • The umpire is qualified at ascertaining whether certain actions are a breach of the rules, but an umpire is not qualified to ascertain intention, and is no better than a spectator in the crowd at ascertaining intention. In some instances, the crowd would be better suited at ascertaining intention as they are closer to the player when the offending action occurred.
The rule could be made more objective by, say, penalising any movement of the ball over the boundary line (as in soccer). Alternatively the rule could be removed, which will result in more stoppages of play (which is presumably the issue that the rule was designed to avoid). If the AFL wished to reduce audience dissatisfaction in the umpiring of the matches, then this sort of rule ought to be addressed.

What do you, as my audience, think?

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