The AFL today wrote to all clubs to advise the AFL Commission had approved several changes to the Laws of the Game for the 2013 Toyota AFL Premiership Season, focused on the key issue of player safety as well as the look of the game and how it is played at elite level.
AFL Chief Executive Officer Andrew Demetriou said the Commission had approved the following three recommendations from the Laws of the Game committee at its meeting in Melbourne yesterday, and these had been detailed to clubs today:
Forceful Contact Below the Knees - A free kick will now be awarded against any player under existing Law 15.4.5 a (ii) Prohibited Contact, who makes forceful contact below the knees of an opponent (this does not apply to smothers with the hands or arms).
Throw Ball Up Around the Ground - The bounce will continue to be used at the start of each quarter, and after goals, but umpires will now throw the ball up for all field stoppages during the game.
Ruckmen At Stoppages - Separation of ruckmen at stoppages, with no contact permitted until the ball has left the umpire's hand, to allow for a greater likelihood of the ball being cleared.
Mr Demetriou said the AFL Commission had approved in principle a recommendation to impose a cap on interchange rotations but determined that a review of further data and analysis was required, including a trial in the 2013 NAB Cup. The proposal would then be revisited by the Commission at the end of next season. As a result, interchange arrangements will remain unchanged for the 2013 season.
Mr Demetriou said the Commission’s guiding objectives were to keep the game safe to play and great to watch, and the Commission thanked the Laws Committee, headed by General Manager Football Operations Adrian Anderson, for its work and wide consultation across the industry.
As part of the annual Laws review process, Mr Anderson and Game Analysis Manager Joel Bowden met with club coaching staff, player leadership groups, the AFL Players Association, the AFL Coaches Association, the AFL Medical Officers Association, the AFL Physiotherapists Association, the AFL Sports Science Association, state and community football bodies and AFL umpires.
Mr Demetriou said the Commission was the ultimate decision-maker on the Laws, as the independent body overseeing the game, and had determined that these changes, along with a number of revised interpretations, would apply from the start of the 2013 Toyota AFL premiership season.
“The approved changes are primarily designed to protect players from injury as well as helping to reduce congestion,” Mr Demetriou said.
"The AFL’s long-term commitment to player welfare is illustrated by other significant changes to protect player safety in recent years such as the Head Over the Ball Rule, The Ruck Rule to Protect Players Against PCL Injuries and the Rules relating to sling tackles, sliding and bumping and head-high contact.”
AFL General Manager Football Operations, Adrian Anderson said the free kick for forceful contact below the knees would protect players from serious lower limb injuries such as broken legs, ankles and knee ACL injuries.
“Clubs and players have adapted well to the free kick for sliding knees or feet first this season and we have extended this to protect players from any forceful contact below the knees,” Mr Anderson said. “In addition to the injury prevention benefit, this change is also designed to encourage players to keep their feet and to assist in reducing congestion.”
The change to throw the ball up around the ground at stoppages has been introduced to help alleviate congestion by enabling play to be re-started more quickly. This proposal was put forward and supported by many players and coaches during consultation.
“Throwing the ball up around the ground will enable the ball to be cleared quicker from congestion and will also make it easier for umpires to detect infringements,” Mr Anderson said.
The following rule interpretations have also been tightened to help alleviate congestion and encourage quick ball movement and genuine marking contests:
Stricter enforcement of protected area around the player with the ball - a) if in protected area, opposition player must remain passive and b) can only enter protected area if within two metres of opponent (amended from five metres);
Protect ball player by awarding a free kick for ‘in the back’ or ‘high contact’ against a player who sits or lies on top of a tackled opponent (having an arm across is permitted);
Stricter interpretation of holding the ball where a player is tackled but doesn’t make a genuine attempt to kick or handball (including throwing/dropping/placing the ball);
Free kick against a player for dragging or pushing the ball back under their opponent (as per previous NAB Cup trials);
Paying free kicks for blocking infringements that interfere with marking contests and umpires to review their positioning to achieve a better balance between detecting infringements at stoppages and infringements occurring within the end zones;
Reduce time allowed for kick ins to 5-6 seconds (from when flags are waved) to be consistent with kicks around the ground.
The recommendation regarding the separation of rucks was motivated by a desire to ensure both ruckmen have the opportunity to jump unimpeded at a ruck contest with the aim of hitting the ball to their teammates.
“With this rule change we want to encourage rucks to play the ball and not the man as well as to facilitate cleaner hit-outs to advantage and to assist clearance rates,” Mr Anderson said.
Mr Demetriou said the AFL Commission had acknowledged the merit of putting a cap on interchange numbers to address a number of issues, but on balance felt that further data and analysis was required plus monitoring undertaken before the Commission reconsidered the implementation of a cap at the end of 2013.
Interchange was originally introduced to help teams when they had an injury, but in recent years it had been used more tactically to maximise player rotations. Interchange numbers reached an historical high average of 131 per team through the 2012 season (compared with 81 five years ago), despite teams having one less player on the interchange.
“The Commission is an independent body that takes a ‘big picture’ approach in overseeing the Laws of our game and it has decided to assess another season with the current interchange rules in place plus review the further trial of a cap in the 2013 NAB Cup before deciding whether to implement a change,” Mr Demetriou said.
“This decision demonstrates the important oversight role the AFL Commission plays and underlines the robustness of the governance arrangements that apply to all significant long-term decisions affecting how our game is played.”
Mr Demetriou said the Commission, as part of its overall Laws review, had also discussed the in-game management and treatment of players suspected of suffering concussion. It was agreed that further work would be undertaken, including consultation with the AFL Medical Officers Association, to determine how best to manage this issue in the best interests of players.
Mr Anderson said the Football Operations Department would continue to commission relevant research to monitor injury trends, physiological demands and the tactical evolution of the game, as well as fan surveys to assist the Commission’s decision-making
The Laws Committee comprises Adrian Anderson (chairman), Kevin Bartlett, Joel Bowden, Brett Burton, Leigh Matthews, Luke Power, Rowan Sawers and Michael Sexton.