The Advertiser

Do umpires need to be accountabl­e?


THERE is no hiding for an AFL player. Champion Data, the AFL’s official statistici­an, can offer data on player efficiency - left foot, right foot, handball, behind centre, at stoppages, at the goalfront.

Every figure is in the public and media domain. Every player is up for scrutiny, inside and outside his clubhouse.

The AFL umpiring department has the same data with its whistle carriers. And it may be time for the AFL to re- evaluate the benefits and costs of making its umpires publicly accountabl­e.

AFL umpiring coach Hayden Kennedy passed his 200game milestone in 1998.

That year is memorable for the AFL placing in its 1999 media guide five pages highlighti­ng how the umpires performed.

The AFL came up with a “true free-kick count” - a figure for each club based on assessing the free kicks, missed free kicks and unwarrante­d free kicks.

The league emphasised: “(The figures) are for analysis purposes ... all people within football accept that errors occur.”

Kennedy was asked at the weekend why the media and public no longer has access to the true free-kick count.

Kennedy’s response was a deflection, and a concern. As the man in the assessor’s chair at the MCG during Saturday’s controvers­ial Port AdelaideCa­rlton game, Kennedy says he needed almost five hours after the game to conclude there were 12 errors by his three field umpires.

“And that is without consultati­on with the umpires,” he added.

Why would the error count change when Mathew Nicholls, Brendan Hosking and Brent Wallace get to throw in their views? If they were poorly positioned to not see a free kick, surely the error stands.

There has been the call for field umpires to take up postmatch press conference­s. As half the people asking the questions would not be well versed on the game’s rules, the sessions are at risk of turning into a farce, or a witch-hunt.

This would concern the AFL, particular­ly when the task of recruiting umpires is increasing­ly difficult.

But the argument for releasing the “true free-kick count” records is now harder for the AFL and its umpiring department to dismiss. At the top level, umpires need to be kept accountabl­e.

Perhaps the AFL - a group that talks of transparen­cy - should reconsider. michelange­

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