The Shaun Giles article on the bias enjoyed by Victorian teams in the Grand Final was a step in the right direction but the analysis of Darren O’Shaughnessy (sports data analyst) seriously undersells the advantage which Victorian sides have. This is because his numbers appear to be blanket. He concludes that umpiring advantage is 1.5 to 2 free kicks per game in favour of the home side but this lumps all interstate games as simply Home and Away. In fact, there are four distinct categories of Home and Away games which are: Home Vic v Away Vic, Home Non-Vic v Away Vic, Home Non-Vic v Away Non-Vic, and Home Vic v Away Non-Vic.
It is this last category which is pertinent to discussions of umpiring bias in relation to Home Victorian Finals. The bias in this category is traditionally higher than the others. That is, a Victorian side forced to play interstate is less likely to be disadvantaged than a Non-Vic side playing in Victoria. (Or Tasmania)
The other important dimension to this argument is that the games that genuinely provoke the outrage of fans are not ones where there is a one or two free-kick differential but a LARGE differential in the free kick count. We saw earlier this year how outraged Victorians were when West Coast got their usual lop-sided free kick count against St Kilda in Perth. Much was made of the EAGLES BIAS but in typical Melbourne Media fashion they failed to turn the spotlight on their own doorstep. I have been looking at such games for over a decade and the bias towards Victorian teams in Games Of Large Differential (GOLD) is significant, especially in the relevant category of HOME VICTORIAN versus AWAY NON VICTORIAN side, which is what we have had in the last five grand finals.
I define a GOLD game as one in which one side gets 56% or more of the free kicks (the other obviously gets 44% or less)
Since 2013 in GOLD games played in VICTORIA OR TASMANIA with a HOME VIC SIDE hosting an away INTERSTATE SIDE the breakdown has been thus; (* qualifying games n.i. finals)
YEAR GOLD GAMES IN VIC FAVOUR IN INTERSTATE FAVOUR
2013 28 21 7
2014 27 21 6
2015 25 20 5
2016 21 19 2
2017 25 20 5
2018 19 16 3
It is quite clear than in the games where there is a lopsided free kick count the Home Victorian Side has a massive advantage being at the very least three times more likely to get the bias in their favour. While it is generally the case that finals and grand finals will see less biased umpiring than qualifying rounds, this cannot be taken for granted. 2016 was the nadir for Interstate sides with the ratio ten to one in favour of the Vic Home sides and this culminated in the disgraceful 2016 Grand Final umpiring exhibition.
Emphasising the lack of AFL credibility is the fact the Mat Stevic one of the umpires from that game will be umpiring the 2018 grand final. That is a sad indictment not only of those in charge of umpiring but of the AFL itself and of the supposedly independent media who have ignored the HGA issue for years, perhaps because many of them have a vested interest in the Grand Final being played in Melbourne.
We all know that if the Eagles win on Saturday the HGA debate will be swept under the carpet for another five years and if they lose, the AFL will make meaningless statements about granting more MCG access.
While I don’t buy the argument that the MCG has to be used for the Grand Final because of its capacity (I am sure just as many members of the finalists could be accommodated at most interstate venues), there is one fair solution: Since no Interstate Team can host the Grand Final regardless of its ranking, no Victorian team should host a semi-final against an Interstate team regardless of its ranking. This would truly level the playing field.