In short:

AFL chief Andrew Dillon says the tightness of the competition is leading to the heightened focus on umpires in 2024.

Fans, pundits and teams have criticised a series of umpiring decisions, but Dillon says the umpiring is as good as ever.

What’s next?

Dillon says the AFL does not want to be talking about umpires’ decision-making at the end of every round.

AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon says despite widespread outcry, the standard of umpiring is as good as ever.

Dillon is staunchly defending new umpires chief Steve McBurney and his cohort amid criticism of decisions influencing the outcome of several games this season.

“I spend a lot of time with the umpires, talking to Steve McBurney who’s heading it up, but also individual umpires,” Dillon told reporters in Adelaide.

“Our umpires, it’s an incredibly tough game to umpire, but we’ve got elite decision-makers, they’re elite athletes, but they continue to work their craft.

“All sports are really difficult to officiate, but I think our sport is one of the hardest ones.

“What our focus on is actually just preparing our umpires and making sure we get the processes right and continue to umpire as well as we can.

“It’s as good as it’s ever been, the umpiring.

“We’re in the second year on the four-umpire system as well, so we’re on a journey with the four-umpire system.”

Dillon said the recent focus on umpiring decisions was a by-product of the closeness of the league.

“The competition is so tight,” he said.

“I don’t understand why, but there’s always been a focus on umpiring — I’m pretty old and it has been around for as long as I’ve been around and will continue to be.

“But I think because the competition is so tight that maybe there is an increased focus on the umpires.”

The AFL hierarchy has in some instances this season publicly admitted mistakes in days following contentious calls.

“What we said at the start of the year is that we’re going to continue to be transparent, but we don’t want to be up every Monday talking about umpiring decisions,” Dillon said.

“If there are umpiring decisions at the end of games, and there’s a real focus on them, then we’re happy to be up.

“But what we really want to focus on is performance. We have got an incredible competition, we have got amazing football being played, so that’s our focus.

“If there is a need to come out and talk to an umpire decision we will do that, but we’re not going to be doing it every week … hopefully we don’t have to come out any weekend and do it.”

Much of the criticism has followed a mid-season interpretation change to the holding-the-ball rule after an early backlash from clubs and fans.

In May, the AFL directed umpires to shorten the “reasonable time” component of the rule after a range of coaches expressed confusion at how the law was being implemented.

“If we see something that should be changed, then we’ll change it,” Dillon said.

“We don’t want to be just holding on to something just for the sake of it.”

Dillon was in Adelaide for the announcement that Gather Round in 2025 will run from April 10–13 to coincide with school holidays in several states.

At least one match will be played in the Barossa Valley at Lyndoch, 70 kilometres north of Adelaide.

In the two seasons so far, games have been split between Adelaide Oval and Norwood Oval in the city, and Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills.


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