AFL Debate Club: Is the umpire dissent rule worth keeping?

AFL journo vs. 'the bounce': is the art truly dead? (2:21)

ESPN's Matt Walsh laces up the boots to try his hand at the endangered Aussie rules art of the centre bounce. (2:21)

Welcome to ESPN's AFL Debate Club, the column in which our writers and contributors will take one prompt from the week and put their opinion on the record. The kicker? No opinion is immune from criticism!

This week, the AFL's umpire dissent rule is in the spotlight after Giant Stephen Coniglio conceded a dubious free kick against the Blues for protesting a decision made by umpire Craig Fleer. Jake Michaels and Jarryd Barca debate the rule and whether it should stay or go.

Is the umpire dissent rule worth keeping?

Jake Michaels: Ask yourself this; why did the AFL introduce the umpire dissent rule at the beginning of last season? Answer: to help set a far better example of how players should treat and respect umpires at the grassroots and junior levels of the game, which, to that point, had been trending in the wrong direction.

The idea that we should abandon it now is utterly laughable and I commend the AFL for standing its ground, reiterating that it has no intentions of scrapping or introducing a degree of leniency with the rule.

"We understand the debate on the level of dissent," said AFL's head of umpiring Dan Richardson earlier in the week. "If you put yourself in a position for an umpire to have to make a call by verbally or visually challenging a decision, then you need to live with the potential consequence. If you don't challenge the decisions, then there is no need for the debate. The approach going forward won't change."

I don't care how ridiculous the free against Stephen Coniglio appeared; if umpire Craig Fleer felt Coniglio's actions -- either verbally and physically -- warranted a free kick, then, as per the rule book, the free kick should be paid. It was and there can be no arguments.

What we need to wrap our heads around with this rule is that it is 100% subjective. It's not black and white. That means the degree for which umpires feel dissent will differ from one to the next. Sensitivity and interpretation will never be exactly the same.

So something which one umpire is happy to let go might be penalised by another official up the other end of the ground, let alone from one game to the next. For this reason, the penalties may at times seem both harsh and inconsistent.

But as Richardson noted, if players don't remonstrate and keep their mouths shut, then there's no reason to worry. And in time, players will learn this. Well, they should...

Jarryd Barca: I disagree, Jake. Get rid of it now before another game is ruined.

I understand why it was introduced and the positive impact the crackdown on umpire dissent has for all levels of football in this country, but can you honestly sit there and still think it's necessary after the AFL released that embarrassing statement during the week?

A statement seeking to clarify the appalling decision against Stephen Coniglio only clouded the situation even more. Was the umpire right? Was he wrong? We still don't know.

The only thing that is clear is that passionate questioning of a decision is allowed to be perceived as violently disputing if that's what an umpire sees fit at the time.

That subjectivity, the differing levels of sensitivity we each have as humans and our different temperament to high-intensity situations -- such as playing in or being involved a football game -- makes it a near impossible task to officiate against a person's emotions.

Make no mistake, abuse and aggression directed towards an umpire -- or anyone -- is absolutely unacceptable and should be punishable, and I commend the AFL for initially introducing the dissent rule last year as a step towards changing behaviours that can trickle down into grassroots level.

Because respect matters.

But having one blanket rule which is going to be perceived differently by each and every umpire isn't the way. There needs to be a clear line players know not to cross, and they're no closer to knowing where that line is despite umpire boss Dan Richardson speaking up.

Players should be allowed to express their emotions in a heated environment, so long as those emotions don't boil over into disrespectful and abusive territory. They should be allowed to question on-field decisions without the risk of a game-changing free kick or 50-metre penalty. They aren't robots. If an umpire needs to explain a decision to a protesting player then do it so the player knows where they went wrong. Is that not a better alternative?

AFL, if it was the wrong decision, just say it. Admit the mistake, apologise to GWS and move on. If it was the right decision, just say it, and then start paying that free kick any time a player asks a question or flaps out their arms.

But don't pick and choose when to apply the rule, because that inconsistency can be a risk to the integrity of the game.

I want players' skills to decide the result of a football match, not a subjective technicality.