AFL defends decision to trial rule change in 2021 VFL, East Coast competitions amid player backlash

Shayne HopeThe West Australian
VideoAFL: The AFL have announced they will make a series of changes to the rules in 2021 in order to help ease congestion around the ball.

The AFL has defended its right to impose experimental rule changes on second- tier leagues amid a strong backlash against its decision to trial zones at stoppages in next year’s VFL and East Coast competition.

On Wednesday, the AFL announced three players from each team will be required to be stationed inside each 50m arc, including one pair in the goal squares, at all kick-ins and boundary throw-ins.

The move is designed to help ease congestion and will be monitored in the VFL with an eye towards introducing it at the elite level in 2022.

Three further rule tweaks will be made immediately at AFL level, including reducing interchange rotations to 75 per team, down from 90 last season.

A wave of past and present players, including Richmond legend Kevin Bartlett and current players Mitch Robinson and Mason Cox, have been vocal in their opposition to the latest changes.

VFL star Tom Gribble accused the AFL of treating second-tier players as “lab rats” and “ruining the credibility of the VFL as a comp” in a social media post.

AFL General Manager Football Operations Steven Hocking addresses the media.
Camera IconAFL General Manager Football Operations Steven Hocking addresses the media. Credit: Scott Barbour/AFL Media/AFL Media

But AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking said the value of second-tier competitions was not lost on the AFL.

He described the combined VFL and East Coast competition as a “pathway” and “development” league being set up in support of the AFL for 2021.

“This (zones trial) is one we feel is right to trial at that level and we’ve been fortunate that that’s been approved by the AFL Commission, as all these modifications have been,” Hocking told SEN on Thursday.

“We’ll put that into 2021 and we’ll monitor that closely.

“We’ll run a PhD (study) alongside that and make sure that we’re gaining the right data from that as to what this might mean for the future of football.”

Hocking said success for the zones trial would see a gradual change in players’ behaviour and spread them out further across the ground in order to reduce congestion.

“It’s a significant change for the game and what we need to do is make sure that we’ve trialled it, we’ve got all the right data and inputs so that the right decisions are made moving forward,” Hocking said.

“There’s a number of moving parts that are relevant to it, which are specific to boundary throw-ins and also kick-ins, and how it’s officiated and how players adapt to it.

“All of that needs to be analysed and collected.”

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