opinion

Georgie Parker: What’s ‘fair’ hasn’t kept up with what’s not allowed in AFL award decisions

Georgie Parker
The Nightly
The West Coast young gun could be ruled ineligible for the Rising Star award.

We may have a Steven Bradbury situation on our hands this season — a come-from-no-where winner of the Rising Star.

That is of course with Harley Reid suspended for his tackle on Darcy Wilson this weekend.

Another one of the other front runners, Sam Darcy, is also out for the two-week suspension handed to him for his late bump on Brayden Maynard.

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It begs the question, is the “fairest” part of “best and fairest” — be it the Brownlow or the Rising Star — still necessary in today’s game?

While I do believe that being the fairest is an important, and somewhat necessary, part of these awards, I also believe there needs to be an adaption to the ruling and criteria given how readily suspensions are handed out, and why they are handed out.

The game has changed from 10 years ago, which was different again from 10 years before that. What we do not tolerate now in the AFL was once a weekly occurrence in the past. It was rougher. From the tackles, to the bumps and of course, the fights.

Suspensions in today’s games are very rarely for the dirty stuff. Suspensions now days are for a tackle that just accidentally went wrong, because protecting the head is now paramount. The bump is a far less often used tactic to rough up the opposition because it could result in weeks out of the game.

16 Feb 2002:  Steven Bradbury of Australia celebrates winning the gold medal after crossing the finish line as Mathieu Turcott of Canada lies on the ice behind him.
16 Feb 2002: Steven Bradbury of Australia celebrates winning the gold medal after crossing the finish line as Mathieu Turcott of Canada lies on the ice behind him. Credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The game has changed (mostly for the better), but the ruling on what is “fair” hasn’t kept up with it.

What used to just be a free kick, at some stage became a fine, and now, that same offence is a suspension. In my opinion, a player getting suspended doesn’t necessarily mean they are not a fair player.

It’s a product of the league having a higher standard of player welfare, which has meant suspensions are sometimes given to accidents, as opposed to unsportsmanlike acts.

Is there a way to adapt the rules of these awards to account for this? Could there be a grading system for suspensions in relation to end of season awards, and where would that line be? Intentional contact or a number of weeks suspended for serious hits means you’re ineligible, for example.

Harry Sheezel of the Kangaroos poses with the Rising Star award.
Harry Sheezel of the Kangaroos poses with the Rising Star award. Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

The tribunal and the MRO grading system already needs an overhaul given the need to protect the head, so this could be an opportunity for the league to do this at the same time.

Let’s be honest, winning the Brownlow while missing multiple weeks is already going to be difficult, so a suspended player managing to pull if off would be rare.

In Reid’s Rising Star case though — one that isn’t a game-by-game voting system — the missing of games doesn’t actually affect the award directly as it would the Brownlow.

It would be a real shame if the clear Rising Star didn’t win for what I don’t consider an “unfair” act, but more so an act (sling tackle) that is no longer accepted

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