Hawthorn Coach Alastair Clarkson went on record in 2012 calling the Eagles serial duckers. Jeff Gieschen, in charge of the AFL umpires stated in 2012 that what the umpiring department were “looking for (was) when a player blatantly drops to his knees and ducks down and where the tackler has no chance.”
Gieschen stated that “dropping to the knees means the head comes down to where the tackler is. Where we find that players are doing it excessively and blatantly, we will be contacting clubs,” adding that “we have to have wits about us and make sure we don’t fall for it and reward people who are blatantly trying to draw free kicks.”
Unfortunately it would seem that wits have escaped the umpiring department who apparently are not on the same page as AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou who stated in a recent press conference; “Since football has been played there are players who know how to milk free kicks…It can be a skill to milk a free kick.”
This disconnection between the CEO and Gieschen has trickled onto the playing field, through the ranks of fans and to the umpires themselves. Demetriou’s endorsement of the tactic has seen and will continue to see more and more players engage in the tactic of dropping the knees and ducking into tackles because it is seen as within the rules of the game, even if many consider it not to be sportsmanlike.
Richmond’s Jack Riewoldt was awarded a dubious free kick against Adelaide’s David Mackay’s tackle in round 12. Riewoldt ducked and threw his head back, and was awarded a free kick which resulted in a goal, after the game he tweeted “If you can’t beat them join them! #quack”.
There have been calls for a change to the rules to prevent players from engaging in this tactic, but such a change is entirely unnecessary; there are actually already multiple provisions within the AFL’s Laws of Australian Football 2013 and Tribunal 2012 Document to drive this scourge from the game.
Section 15 of the Laws of Australian Football focuses on free kicks.
15.1.1 Spirit and Intention of Awarding Free Kicks
It is the spirit and intention of these Laws that a Free Kick shall
be awarded to:
(a) ensure that a Match is played in a fair manner;
(c) protect Players from sustaining injury”
Within section (a) and (c) as described above, a player who deliberately drops his legs and or ducks his head when he feels the pressure of a tackler is both exposing himself to potential injury by causing a tackle to slip high and force head-high contact, but is arguably not playing the game in a “fair manner”. There will be many incidents during an AFL match where you hear umpires say “You ducked into it, play on!” but this statement of interpretation does not seem to apply to the exaggerated tactic of dropping legs that has been perfected by the Selwood family, amongst others.
AFL is played at an incredible pace and umpires cannot see every possible free-kick as it occurs, and do not always have the luxury of time to interpret the actions of players that we as viewers are given thanks to multiple replays. Yet, there is a body which has the capacity to review footage of games and determine whether there are reportable offences occurring during a match.
The Match Review Panel has the capability and the power to sanction players who engage in the art of ducking into a free kick, in 2012, the MRP were allowed to take “a more stringent approach to staging by clarifying that excessive exaggeration of contact in an unsportsmanlike manner will also be reportable.”
According to the AFL’s own definition, staging “shall be a reportable offence as it may: affect umpires’ decision making” and “not be in the spirit of the game (unsportsmanlike)”.
Staging is a sub-category of misconduct, which is more broadly defined as “any conduct which would be regarded as unacceptable or unsportsmanlike by other participants in the match.” Western Bulldogs veteran Robert Murphy stated on Foxtel’s AFL 360 that “I can’t stand it. I hate the ducking. I hate the bump and fall over. I think it’s a really, really bad look.” Murphy’s displeasure at the technique utilised by many AFL players to draw a free kick is clearly regarded as unacceptable, which should very easily place it in the category of misconduct.
It is easy to argue that a player who deliberately throws their head back when feeling contact, or who ducks their knees to fall to the ground to cause a tackle to slip high is not only at risk of causing injury to himself as well as deliberately misleading the umpire in order to receive a free kick. The AFL has the capacity to reward free kicks against the player who is ducking under the category of 15.1.1 (a) and (c) as listed above, as well as sanction players through reprimands and fines via the MRP.
The question needs to be asked with growing discontent from coaches, fans and players, why the AFL are allowing this disturbing trend to continue? Failing to censure players who engage in this technique only encourages more to join the ranks of those who duck.