Former AFL referee Shane McInerney says player dissent is not ‘innocent’ and is aimed at undermining officials

The record holder for the most AFL games officiated has backed the league’s crackdown on dissent, arguing that player complaints and gestures seek to gain an advantage.

The issue of referee abuse came under the microscope during round 5 when players were penalized for visibly expressing frustration at referee decisions, even for basic appeals with arms outstretched.

Shane McInerney, who officiated 502 AFL games between 1994 and 2019, said players were trying to undermine referees.

“Actions like pointing to the scoreboard, asking the referee to go and watch the replay, it’s just theater,” McInerney said.

On Tuesday, AFL football operations manager Brad Scott doubled down on the AFL’s hardline stance on dissent.

“You have no excuses because it’s an emotional game, so we have to tolerate bad behavior,” Scott said.

“And to be honest, the game has tolerated it for decades and we’re very clear that we’re not, there’s no acceptable level of dissent.”

Brisbane’s Harris Andrews was penalized 50 meters for stretching out his arms after a free kick against Collingwood.(Getty Images: Albert Perez/AFL Photos)

Ahead of this season, the AFL warned clubs and players that rules on referee abuse would be tightened as it sought to set an example at a community level.

The AFL estimates that there are about 6,000 fewer local umpires than there should be, and an increase in abuse is seen as a contributing factor.

“It is well understood that behavior seen at the elite level cascades down to the community and youth club level,” McInerney said.

Some players have warned that it would be difficult to completely prevent players from responding physically to a referee’s decision, arguing that it is human nature to react emotionally during a match.

Western Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli said there were gray areas in umpires’ interpretation of the rule.

“I think we can all agree with the logic of supporting our referees and their position in the game and obviously adjusting our behavior,” Bontempelli told Fox Sports.

“But this will give us a little more clarity on how we can better regulate our emotions.”

Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury said the media was the last group to understand the problem.

“All the players handle it, the coaches clearly say we know what to expect, but it’s the media [and] football commentators who seem to have a big problem with it,” he said on Wednesday.

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