“Player management” is not in the spirit of football

Much of Round 23 is now a farce for fans, with Fremantle and North Melbourne resting 20 players between them in the lead-up to the finals, the AFL Fans Association said today.

Fans who booked expensive seats for Richmond-North Melbourne and Port Adelaide-Fremantle will now see second-rate matches. North’s decision to rest nine stars could also affect the order of the final eight, which is of concern to many supporters. North has omitted nine of its top players for tonight’s game, while Fremantle will rest 11 for tomorrow’s match against Port Adelaide in Adelaide.

AFL Fans Association spokesman Ron Issko says if North loses, it guarantees it will not play a final against Adelaide in Adelaide. “When North presumably play Richmond or the Bulldogs in Melbourne in the first week of the finals, they will also have fresher legs,” Ron says. “This is not fair to their opponents and makes a mockery of what most fans would see as fair play.”

AFL Rule 29 requires AFL teams to “perform on one’s merits” and “at all times to perform honestly and to the best of one’s ability in the pursuit only of legitimate competitive objectives”. “Legitimate competitive objective” includes the development of the team or players or management of player fatigue or injuries, but does not include manipulating a club’s position on the ladder for the purpose of improving its draw within the finals series.

Despite this, the AFL ruled that after consecutive six-day breaks North Melbourne was legitimately managing the fatigue and injury status for their players ahead of the finals next week. It also claimed the club did not have an incentive to lose to manipulate its finals draw.

Ron says North does have an incentive – guaranteeing that it doesn’t have to play Adelaide in Adelaide. He says the situation raises questions for fans and about the spirit of our great game:

  • What happens if tonight’s Richmond-North crowd is well under what it would have been otherwise, which could cost Richmond gate money as the home side?
  • Do fans who paid for expensive reserved seats for the Richmond-North and Port-Fremantle games on the promise of seeing tight contests have any recourse as consumers?
  • What happens if Brownlow chance Todd Goldstein misses out by a vote after being rested?
  • If Fremantle and North are simply managing players, why haven’t other teams in the top eight rested 10 players each?

“This situation is a terrible look for the game,” Ron says. “Round 23 has turned into a farce and the make-up of the finals could be affected. Fans who follow their teams through thick and thin deserve much better. While some supporters accept the situation, many are angry and disillusioned.

“Rule 29 was introduced after Fremantle rested players in the last round of 2013 and beat Geelong at Geelong in the first final. Why introduce this rule if you’re not going to enforce it?

“By allowing the mass resting of players, the AFL has opened a Pandora's Box. Every year more finals bound teams may rest half their team in the last round. It is conceivable next year that Round 23 will see up to 5-6 farcical games, which could artificially alter the home and away ladder and thus the allocation of draft picks. For example, the team placed last going into Round 23 could win against a top eight team’s ‘B side’ and move off the bottom of the ladder. Is this what we want?”