If Phil Davis and Callan Ward never signed a contract before they left their clubs, why did the loophole have to be closed?
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By any measure, the AFL is Australia's best-managed major sporting competition. It is self-sustaining, it draws massive audiences both at the stadiums and on live broadcasts, and it serves up a compelling product to viewers and sponsors every week.
Why, then, are AFL fans - who by most measures should be satisfied with their game - so angry with AFL House?
Answer: because they feel the league too often refuses to treat its mature fan base with the respect it deserves.
The AFL has been so focused on the image of the game, and how the sport presents to potential fans in the new markets of western Sydney and south-east Queensland, that they appear to take the rusted-on supporters for granted.
After five years of compromised drafts, player defections and inflated salary cap allowances, fans of established clubs have had enough of accepting sacrifices "for the good of the game".
The past week has not been a good one for the tempestuous relationship between the AFL and its supporters.
Friday night's thrilling clash between West Coast and Geelong was blighted by what appeared to be a re-interpretation of the deliberate out of bounds rule. Players were penalised no fewer than nine times for the offence - an enormous tally in a close game, and completely out of step with how the rule had been adjudicated previously in 2012.
It was clear to most observers that the men in white must have been instructed to crack down on the offence. Had the league conceded as much on Monday, fans might have begrudgingly accepted it. However, umpiring director Jeff Gieschen was adamant that no such instruction had been given. Supporters were also told that eight of the nine free kicks were warranted.
Here's a tip - if a decision looks wrong and feels wrong, there's every chance that it could be wrong. In a game where the interpretation of a rule plays such a huge role, adjudication of free kicks such as deliberate out of bounds are rarely cut and dried.
Secondly, the AFL's decision to close the loophole that allowed GWS and Gold Coast to sign players a year before they came out of contract was a welcome development at first glance.
But given that the two expansion clubs, their well-paid recruits and AFL officials all publicly maintain that none of Gary Ablett, Tom Scully, Phil Davis, Callan Ward or Nathan Bock signed a contract before they left their clubs, why did the loophole need closing in the first place?
The league's announcement that clubs could be fined up to $100,000 for poaching opposition players during the season was similarly ridiculous. As far as we have been told, it has never happened. Not even when Phil Davis told Adelaide in August last year that he was moving to GWS, only for his new employer to publicly deny he had a contract with them. Why, then, was there such haste to legislate against something that has never occurred?
Here's another tip - football supporters in the game's heartlands are mature enough to understand that today's game is more of a business than ever. We can cop the prospect of players seeking better or more lucrative opportunities at another club before they've finished their current campaign. All we ask is honesty from the player - and for that matter, respect from the league.
Don't patronise supporters by telling us that no player has signed with an opposition club outside the official transfer window before legislating against it the very next minute. And don't tell rusted-on supporters with decades of football knowledge that they're suddenly wrong about what they're seeing on the field.
Supporters don't want much from their engagement with the AFL. They want their team to win every weekend, they want the league to be honest with them and to treat them with respect. The first will never be possible but there is no excuse for the league's failure to deliver on the latter.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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