Fans, media, and players remain confused over umpire dissent rule


AFL Umpires walk out onto the ground. Photo: Michael Coghlan (CC BY 2.0)

The footy world seems to be resigned to constant rule introductions and changes – from the stand on the mark rule to the six-six-six formation rule, change is what helps keep the sport Australia loves up to date with current issues seen in the game.

Before the start of the 2022 AFL season, the umpire dissent rule was introduced to protect umpires from any form of abuse that players might dish out.

But nine rounds into the season, confusion remains between players, fans, and commentators about what classifies as dissent.

So, has this new rule helped the game evolve or has added to the frustration when watching an AFL match?

David Barracosa, a performance psychologist with Condor Performance, has seen how much of a toll abuse can take on an umpire’s ability to make the right decision.

Barracosa believes abuse aimed at an umpire can affect each individual differently.

“In some instances, it depends on the individual and their overall resilience and mental toughness – at the end of the day, we are all human, you say a certain thing to a certain person it’s going to garner a reaction from that,” he said.

“Just like some athletes are really good at handling their emotions and don’t resort to abusing umpires, I think it’s the same with umpires – those who have worked on or put time into their mental side of performances don’t let it affect them”.

The introduction of the rule has caused angst among players over what classifies as dissent.

Initially, players were penalised for simply putting their arms out in disgust after a decision.

During the third quarter of Geelong’s clash with Hawthorn on Easter Monday, Jack Gunston and Tom Mitchell gave away a 50-metre penalty for abuse as they pointed to the big screen in an attempt to plead their case.

The day after this controversial call, frustration amongst upset fans and experts around the rule had been growing exponentially.

This forced AFL General Manager of Football Operations Brad Scott to face the press in an attempt to clear the confusion.

“Our message to players is that when an umpire pays a free kick, accept it and move on and our message to umpires is we encourage you to continue to pay free kicks or 50-metre penalties where players have shown dissent,” Scott said.

From then on, more players continued to be penalised for minor incidents.

In Round 9, Western Bulldogs young forward Buku Khamis gave away a 50-metre free for looking at the central umpire with his arms out.

Fox Footy analyst David King expressed his concern about the inconsistency of the rule on the podcast First Crack.

“This [arms out] is not dissent – I understand when a player abuses an umpire then that is a 50m penalty or that is penalisable; that there [Khamis’ incident] is not dissent…That is a young man just putting his palms to the sky, he may be angry with himself, he may be questioning the umpire – but it‘s not dissent,” he said.

“And every third week it’s costing five 50m penalties – and the other two weeks it lays idle.”

On the same podcast former St Kilda midfielder Leigh Montagna is also annoyed about the classification of dissent.

“That‘s the frustration because we all got upset about it four weeks ago that they were getting paid then we thought the umpires had shown some common sense – then for some reason, this weekend, they decide to go back to paying them.”


Journalists are also expressing their anger about how inconsistent the dissent rule is.

Referring to Khamis’ case, former 7AFL reporter Mark Stevens tweeted “can only laugh at inconsistency. Dissent farce.”

SEN’s Andy Maher tweeted “gotta be careful with this dissent stuff. It’s great to help umpires but punishing players for marginal stuff like we’ve seen tonight isn’t fair on them. And it will sour the game for plenty of fans. Need to get our heads around this properly.”

Barracosa believes the umpires are being harshly done by in regards to the criticism surrounding how the rule is awarded.

“It’s the same thing for the umpires – the umpires need to get used to it and they need to have a conversation about where is that line in the sand about what’s acceptable and what’s not,” he said.

Although footy experts and fans are unhappy with the new rule, Barracosa believes it will be a good change once players and fans accept it.

“I think give it a few weeks, like every rule change … the umpire dissent rule will eventually become something that will help umpires, but I think people will just have to get used to it.”