As someone who can appreciate the nature of a physical and hard-hitting battle that Australian Rules brings to our televisions and sporting arenas weekly, it was quite disturbing to watch Sharrod Wellingham’s hip and shoulder on Kade Simpson last week.
Seeing Simpson’s arms flail while revisiting replays and listening to reports of concussions and broken jaws, it was common knowledge that Wellingham was set for a lengthy holiday.
However, to hear of his suspension – or at least a certain facet of it – was quite frustrating to comprehend.
The points itself, being reckless, severe impact, high contact which translated to a level five offence, which then becomes a 550-point, five-match suspension, is agreeably fair.
It’s a suspension you’d take and run and be silly to consider challenging, given the nature of it. So Wellingham took the early guilty plea, discounting it to a 412.50-point, four-match suspension, which again is just.
However, from there, an additional 25% was removed. Why? Because Wellingham had a five-year good record as a player, having been on an AFL list from 2007 to 2011 without receiving any sanction worthy of demerit points.
That makes sense. What doesn’t is how someone who had played AFL for four years, as Wellingham had – he did not play a game in 2007, and made his debut on the annual ANZAC Day clash in 2008 – can justifiably have a good record as judged by the AFL and the match review panel for five.
It is an inconsistency that has now been proved to be an issue. Wellingham has not had the chance to prove his good record in the AFL over a full five-year stretch, yet despite this, the AFL has chosen to say otherwise.
The five-year good record needs a fix to maintain integrity and value as a method of discipline, and to do this it needs to be judged over a period of games played rather than years involved.
Think of this situation; Robert Murphy was suspended for rough conduct in Round 10, 2008, for one match (after pleading guilty, down from an original two). Since then, he has played 85 AFL games.
Scott Gumbleton played game number 23 on Saturday since his debut in 2007, and over his AFL career is yet to receive a suspension, given a very limited career.
Under the current system, Murphy, who has proven in the four years and 85 games since to be a clean and fair player of the game without suspension, does not have a good record. An unproven Gumbleton does.
It is a logically superior choice to switch away from the five-year good record to judge by a set amount of games played. Whether that figure is 25, 50 or 100 games without an offence against a player’s name, it is proven that the five-year system has holes.
In the spirit of the game, the AFL needs to make this switch and it needs to make it soon.