AFL’s plan to knock out the punch
THE AFL believes it can penalise every punch on the football field this year regardless of its force in a league-wide crackdown.
AFL umpires coach Hayden Kennedy has confirmed umpires had been told to pay free kicks for every punch that takes place with a closed fist.
The league had considered a red card system after Andrew Gaff's shocking punch on opponent Andrew Brayshaw but instead will penalise the niggling tactics that lead to escalating violence.
For the first time the onus has been put on the AFL's 18 senior coaches to eliminate punches from the game through coaching violence out of football.
In previous seasons they had no incentive to ensure their players stopped low-level punches because they were punished with only low-level fines and not free kicks.
Now those free kicks for punching could cost them goals, and potentially games.
Umpires have already been out to 175 training sessions over summer ahead of a series of official practice matches between AFL sides next week.
Fans will likely be upset when free kicks are given away close to goal for stomach punches of minor force.
But AFL football boss Steve Hocking is unapologetic for a crackdown, believing those punches are cheap shots which often lead to retaliation.
Those stomach punches will also see players fined under MRO misconduct provisions or suspended if the force is sufficient, meaning players have been forewarned.
"Those punches will still be dealt with by the MRO but we will be paying free kicks for strikes even though the force is on the lower end," Kennedy said on Wednesday.
"That is the instruction this year, if we see any player using a fist in a striking motion.
"That is going to be difficult at times because a player might turn his back on us or an umpire not be sure if a fist is used, but the instruction is not to accept a strike at all.
"In regards to other types of prohibited contact like the use of elbows, we will have to watch those carefully too."
The penalising of players for punching will be the most challenging task for umpires this year, with the nine new rules mostly easy to interpret.
Umpires will have to watch to ensure players do not breach the 6-6-6 centre bounce set-up and might have to pay consecutive 50m penalties under tighter rules.
If a player gives away a 50m to an opponent, falls behind him as he rushes forward to take the kick, then blocks his run he will receive another 50m penalty.
Under MRO boss Michael Christian the AFL dramatically increased misconduct fines, penalising players who punched rivals but without enough force for suspensions.
Those low-level punches continued, which saw Hocking enforcing a further crackdown with the AFL Commission's blessing.
The MRO will also enforce strict liability in most bumps that cause damage, with a player's only excuse if they are contesting the ball with an opponent.
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