AFL instructs umpires to make significant adjustments to ball holding

The AFL has ordered its referees to immediately shorten the “reasonable time” component of holding the ball in a rare in-season rule change.

The clubs were informed on Tuesday night of the change in interpretation after weeks of criticism from players, coaches and fans.

In a memo seen by AFL told clubs its referees had been instructed to adjust reasonable time.

The change seeks to align refereeing with the demands of the match review official and the tribunal when it comes to dangerous tackles.

“The purpose of this note is to share with you the training our umpires received today on the clarification of holding the ball and one aspect of holding the ball, which is a reasonable amount of time,” the AFL wrote.

“Over the season it has become clearer that in fulfilling their duty of care while executing a tackle, tacklers positively choose not to tackle tackled players during the tackle, or generally do so in a reasonable manner, including not using excessive force. . .

“Consequently, we are seeing players holding the ball a little longer, defying the definition of reasonable time.

“We thank the players who adapted to these rules and also the coaches for training the players to approach in this way, as it is important that we continue to protect the health and safety of the players.”

This week referee training was attended by members of the Australian committee who spoke with the coaches and the league executive.

Clubs and players will be notified in the coming weeks as referees look to blow the whistle quicker when players are tackled.

It comes after Essendon coach Brad Scott said AFL360 on Monday night: “I think the players are in an incredibly difficult position right now.

“The court has clearly said that if you pin the ball carrier’s arm like Mac Andrew does here, if he throws it to the ground and Charlie Curnow’s head hits the ground, it’s a dangerous tackle.

“So he can’t tackle him, but he has to stop him from getting rid of the ball, so I’m not sure how he does it. It’s a real challenge for the coach right now.”

Opposing coaches Michael Voss and Damien Hardwick were left confused on Sunday by the lack of freedom to hold the ball in Carlton’s win over Gold Coast.

“We’ll follow up and I don’t say that often,” Voss said after the Blues’ 29-point win.

Hardwick said: “Today there were 131 effective tackles and there were four ball retentions for both sides.”

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