MITCHELL JOHNSON: Forget AFL players . . . what we really need is a dissent rule for parents in junior sport

Mitchell Johnson
The Nightly
Did Fremantle's James Aish touch the ball that led to a Carlton mark and a controversial Dockers loss? Watch this fan footage and decide.

As I watched the last few moments of the Fremantle-Carlton game last weekend with my neighbour, we both looked at each other unsure what had just happened.

I’m sure we weren’t the only ones. It sure was a tough pill to swallow if you were a Dockers player or supporter.

The controversial ending highlighted multiple issues that most sports are wrestling with.

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Replays of the “mark” paid to the Blues’ Matt Cottrell appear to show that not one, but two Fremantle players touched the ball. And the AFL’s goal review system was not able to be used because it didn’t directly involve a score.

There’s been calls for the introduction of one “captain’s call” review per match. Even one per quarter would seem fair enough if it got rid of the current practice of goal umpires constantly stopping the game to check their decisions.

Goal umpires seem to have been spooked by what happened in the Adelaide-Sydney match last year and now want to go to the video just to be safe and it’s frustrating to watch. Like in cricket, where most run-outs go straight up to the TV umpire to check even when a batsman is clearly out.

Increasing reliance on technology in sport has its downsides and I personally don’t like it for so many reasons. It can slow the game down, rob fans of spontaneity and undermine respect for umpires and referees.

Sometimes the replays themselves create even more doubt when there is a close decision to be made. In cricket, one angle can show a catch taken cleanly and another makes it look like it took some grass.

Where will we be in 10 years’ time? Will umpires largely be sidelined from sport in favour of using technology to officiate?

I’ve seen a distinct change in cricket umpires since technology became involved. It actually puts more pressure on them and any mistake now is crucified by all.

Umpires should be accountable for their decisions but the problem with technology is they become too reliant on it and then won’t back their training, skills and judgment to make the call.

When I first started playing cricket, and even back in club cricket, if you appealed for a caught behind and it was given not out when you thought it was clearly out, you just had to accept the decision.

You respected that decision. You knew it would even itself out at some point and you would get some decisions your way. I even had umpires admit they got it wrong and apologise, which I had respect for as I knew we are all human and make mistakes sometimes.

Then there was the dissent call against Jordan Clark which finished Freo off. The AFL’s big crackdown on dissent from a couple of years ago seems to have waned but the umpires made a statement here in the final minute of a close match.

Penalising Jordan Clark for dissent has become a hot-topic in the AFL world this week but Mitchell Johnson says players need to respects umpire’s decisions, even if they are wrong.
Penalising Jordan Clark for dissent has become a hot-topic in the AFL world this week but Mitchell Johnson says players need to respects umpire’s decisions, even if they are wrong. Credit: 7AFL/7AFL

Some would argue the free kick which led to Carlton’s double-goal wasn’t warranted in this instance, especially after a controversial decision in a game that was tight at the very end when emotions came into it.

In the end, the rule is there whether you like it or not. Players should respect the umpires or officials and sometimes you push it too far and that can cost your team in close games. Swearing at an umpire is clear dissent and shouldn’t happen but I have no problem with players getting their point across in other ways.

The AFL says a hard line must be taken on umpire dissent because everyone watches on TV and the behaviour of players filters down to community levels, where umpire retention is a problem.

While that is part of the issue, it also begins at the grassroots and it is often young players’ parents who set a bad example from the sideline. And I’ve witnessed ugly sporting parents from as early as the under-8s.

While as parents we ride the wave with our kids and want the best for them, yelling out to the umpire or other parents isn’t the way forward. We have to let the umpire or referee do their job even if you don’t agree or like it.

When a parent screams out, how do you think their kid sees that or reacts?

If we can all be patient and understand that our kids are playing for fun, they aren’t all going to be the next superstar, and take some pressure off our future umpires, then as parents we can drive lasting culture change when it comes to the treatment of umpires in sport.

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