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There have been increasing calls from umpires recently to ditch the traditional starting bounce as a way to get the match underway. Many have complained about the stress they endure when throwing the opening bounce and, also, of the players’ wellbeing when they clash in the middle. Recently though, the AFL commission held a vote on the matter and it seems as though the iconic starting method will be retained for the future.
Football operations manager Steve Hocking, as well as his colleague, AFL chairman Richard Goyder, both felt that the bounce was an iconic and unique part of the game and fans would be delighted with the decision to keep it in the sport. With the recent International Rules Series against Ireland proving to be so successful, it doesn’t seem like the right time to be meddling with the tried and trusted rules of the game. They also said that it was not something that would be addressed again anytime shortly, suggesting that the bounce was in fact here to stay.
Goyder also pointed out that spectators loved the anticipation of the bounce as they stand and roar their team on in hope of victory from the terraces. It is definitely something that has long been associated with the spectacle that is AFL, and the game’s loyal followers love the thrill of mighty ruckmen like Adelaide Power’s Paddy Ryder crashing their bodies into each other. What would the ‘Tiger Army’ think when the season kicks off on March 22nd if they can’t start their title defence with a smashing bounce in the middle to announce they’re are back for 2018?
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Whether or not the commission made the call to scrap or keep the famous introduction to the match, the passionate spectators were never going to abandon their beloved game. Already bookmakers such as Betway Sports have seen bettors enthusiastically jumping behind their team in hope of claiming some silverware next season. Surprisingly though it’s not Grand Final winners Richmond Tigers receiving the most attention and, as of 24th of November, the Greater Western Sydney Giants have jumped out to become the early favourites as they continue to search for their maiden premiership.
The Umpire’s Say
However, it hasn’t so much been the fans that have been pushing for this change, with the game’s umpires the main protagonists for a different start. Ray Chamberlain, who seemingly became the main spokesperson for the officials, has umpired 264 games in 13 seasons and said there was tremendous pressure on his colleagues to execute the move correctly.
He also confirmed that many officials involved in the game have needed counselling or medication to deal with the physical toll and mental stress they endure while on the pitch. According to some of the referees, shoulder reconstructions and agonizing back pain are becoming commonplace within the industry, with some even being forced into early retirement or having to choose a new line of work that isn’t so demanding on their body. Perth-based umpire Luke Farmer is a perfect example of this and hasn’t worked for over 18 months after having surgery to correct some of the problems in his back.
Even coaches thought it was a good idea to scrap the bounce, with a recent AFL survey finding that 15 out of 18 were in favour of getting rid of the traditional method.
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Chamberlain was quick to mention the significant fact that the bounce was also not practised in any other league in Australia. Junior umpires who are trying to break into the elite level have virtually no practice with using this technique, with a simple ‘throw up’ the preferred method in other competitions. It’s understandable why officials are questioning the decision to remain the only league where the bounce still features.
It will be interesting to see how the umpires feel after the first round of footy is completed, when the West Coast Eagles take on the Sydney Swans in Perth. Will they push for more action or will they accept the decision and simply move on with the task at hand?
Steve Hocking responded to the problems raised by this recent debate and said they will now invest more resources and offer support to deal with the concerns within the profession. There was mention of teaching better technique and even if they should look into having a specialist bouncer that could take more of the centre-square bounces.
Hopefully, in the future, the AFL can work together with the umpires to ensure their players’ physical and mental health isn’t jeopardized in any way. The good news is that, at the moment, they are still happy to be out on the field, and we can look forward to another stellar year of footy next season.