THE AFL has told clubs free kicks such as the controversial free against James Sicily last weekend will continue to be paid.
In official correspondence sent to coaches on Wednesday night and seen by AFL.com.au, the AFL's umpiring department reinforced and also sought to clarify directives relating to the adjudication of prohibited contact.
Clubs were told in the email that a player using a clenched fist, regardless of force, against an opponent, will have a free kick paid against him.
Umpires have also been told to pay free kicks against players who make "forceful contact" with a forearm to the back of an opponent.
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"To clarify further, a prohibited contact free kick for striking (defined as a blow delivered with force) can also be paid when delivered with an open hand or arm," the email to coaches reads.
"Finally, repeated prohibited contact, that may in a single instance not warrant a free kick, may also result in a free kick (following a warning from the umpire)."
Sicily had a free kick paid against him for remonstrating with Western Bulldogs forward Josh Schache in last Sunday's round two match at the MCG.
There was also a contentious free kick paid against Port Adelaide ruckman Scott Lycett for making contact to Carlton opponent Andrew Phillips at a boundary throw-in.
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North Melbourne coach Brad Scott, in response to the AFL's clarification this week, said League headquarters had set a "very, very low bar" for the acceptable "level of force".
"What has been reiterated is that if there is repeat prohibited contact with the elbow, and the umpire warns you, the level of force is a lower bar to step over," Scott said.
"The problem's going to be if the cameras catch that and it looks like it's a pretty minor thing, well, we can only assume there's been a warning already given.
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"But we've spoken to our players about the fact the AFL is hot on it, so play to the system and play to the rules put in front of us."
Scott is supportive of the AFL's crackdown on "off-the-ball niggle" but added, "we do play a pretty combative sport and players' emotions are going to get the better of them at times".
Given many incidents which were overlooked by umpires in round one and also in some games in round two, the Sicily adjudication seemed extreme.
It was subsequently cleared as correct by the AFL football department, and Wednesday’s email to coaches indicates the hardline stance will be heavily policed for the remainder of the season.