Recent events have highlighted the dark, dangerous action which threatens severe and permanent injury to players. I do not refer to the bump but to that refuge of the desperate, beaten hack, the shove in the back.
Adelaide’s Tom Lynch copped a broken jaw, Nick Riewoldt was KO’d on the field and another champion Chris Judd had his comeback scuppered, all in incidents where they were propelled from behind. In my fifty years of watching footy I have seen many of the worst injuries caused by the shove in the back which is particularly dangerous in a marking contest where a player has left his feet and finds himself catapulted into an elbow or head with no chance of protection. Yet the joke is this cowardly act is rarely even penalised. In any game on any given weekend you can be sure there’ll be an occasion where a player running into an open goal is shoved in the back by some loser in pursuit, causing him to miss. Commentators generally blame the player shooting, “oh he sprayed that” or praise the pursuer “wonderful chase and pressure.” Hey, news morons, it is not “pressure” to shove a player in the back it is an illegal act that should be penalised. I remember a game a couple of years ago where three times Rioli shoved Fremantle players in the back each time resulting in a Hawthorn goal. The commentators were in raptures.
But the player shoved in the back is much more deserving of a free kick than those who duck or leave their feet and are then paid free kicks for incidental high contact. In those instances the disadvantage is self-inflicted but the one area where a player cannot inflict the damage on himself is a shove in the back. On the rare occasion where a bold umpire actually upholds the rule and pays the free you can guarantee he’ll be scoffed at as “soft.” There was nothing soft about the injury Judd received, and he wasn’t even paid a free. Thankfully, from what I can see of the Tom Lynch incident it looks like an unfortunate accident. Yes, Georgiou is propelling him from behind but it is more acceleration and body pressure, not a violent shove. However Riewoldt is shoved in the back and cops a terrible hit to the head so my question is, why isn’t Rowe, the offender cited for reckless or careless conduct? What’s the difference between a player contesting the ball with a bump and causing an unintentional injury, and a player shoving from behind causing the identical injury? The only difference I can see is that the player shoving isn’t even in the contest and has therefore no defence.
The AFL can’t have it both ways. If they are going to protect players from injury by charging players for careless or reckless acts that may be unintentional then players who cause those injuries by a shove in the back, by diving at the feet of a running player or by tripping, are equally culpable. At the very least let’s have umpires bold enough to pay free kicks to players who are shoved in the back running into an open goal and commentators smart enough to recognise that’s the right call.

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