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 AFL has reinforced the need for players to avoid dissent after a weekend in which players were penalized for showing frustration.
- Shane McInerney said rooting out dissent was key to attracting and retaining thousands of needed officials at all levels of football.
- McInerney said actions like asking referees to watch replays were just “theater” designed 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.”
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.
“And then that goes into the public forum because there’s a lot of talk about it.
“As players we are very clear that whatever we do will be [a 50-metre penalty].”
Essendon captain Dyson Heppell agreed, saying the referees did “an amazing job”.
“We need grassroots football to continue and for young kids to want to referee games and feel that they are respected,” he added.
McInerney said there was some confusion surrounding referee dissent, but the expectation had now been set that any form of dissent is not acceptable.
He said that he believed players would be smart enough to adapt to the new norm.
“I think with any new law that’s been introduced, there’s always that reflex, some call it an overreaction,” he said.
“But I think we’ll see players this weekend who won’t even come close.