UMPIRES will no longer pay a 50m penalty against players infringing the protected area of a mark or free kick if they have 'split' from their opponent, after the AFL cracked down on an exploitation of the rule.
The League on Tuesday informed clubs that a rule tweak would come into effect from round 16 around the contentious protected area 50m penalties.
The rule has previously allowed a defending player to follow their opponent into the protected area of a mark or free kick as long as they are within two metres of each other.
But the adjustment has been made so that when the pair of opposing players split from one another and the defender continues to move through and clear the 10m protected zone, the umpire will no longer pay a 50m penalty.
The defending player, however, will need to vacate the space as soon as possible and not linger within the area.
Essendon's Matt Guelfi gave away a controversial 50m penalty against St Kilda in round 14 after attempting to run alongside Saints opponent Jack Sinclair near a marking contest.
When Sinclair dodged one side of teammate Jack Billings and Guelfi went the other, a 50m penalty was paid against Guelfi because he was not next to his direct opponent.
However under the new interpretation of the rule, the umpire would not penalise Guelfi with a 50m penalty given he was alongside his opponent until they separated near the player with the ball.
The AFL's head of umpiring Dan Richardson said there had been an 'unintended exploitation' of the rule.
"The protected area rule is designed for the kicker to have options to move the ball," Richardson said.
"It is having the desired effect, however there have been more and more instances of players deliberately running their opponent into the zone with the intention of getting split and/or drawing a 50m penalty.
"If this 'split' of players happens, providing the defender moves to vacate the area, the umpires have been instructed to no longer apply a 50m penalty.
"Feedback is important, and we continually listen to a whole range of stakeholders, and this clarification will provide opportunity for the rule to be applied as intended."