Umpires’ anti-Ginnivan bias has reached a new low – it’s time for the AFL to step in


Most of us have heard the fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but there’s an unresolved question we never really think about or consider: does the boy seriously deserve to be eaten just for previously telling lies?

It just gets accepted by most readers that he does – it’s his fault for lying, so he should cop his punishment. But at the end of the day, does the punishment fit the crime?

That question should yield a different response when the AFL considers how Jack Ginnivan is treated, both by opposition players and, it seems, umpires, when he is repeatedly taken high and rarely if ever receives a free kick.

Yes, the Hawks goalsneak has admitted in his past to playing for frees, or manipulating his body to trick umpires – but should that remove his head-high protection for life?

I am not talking about special treatment, but basic duty of care, and protection under the rules of the game, that every player on the field deserves to have when they are hit in the head.

Back in 2022, while playing with Collingwood, Ginnivan gave the Goes Alright podcast a frank admission.

“I feel like it’s just a great way to kick a goal. I reckon I’ve kicked 10 goals from free kicks or something like that,” he said.

“Instead of going to ground, I was trying to stand up in the tackle and take it.”

From that moment, the number of free kicks he receives has dried up, even to the extent that Magpies coach Craig McRae said in late 2022 that the AFL privately contacted him to concede umpires ‘missed’ multiple free kicks.

Then a few weeks later, Ginnivan admitted the fallout from his podcast admission.

“It’s definitely taking a toll on my mental health and all that stuff,” he told Fox Footy after a Magpies win.

“It’s definitely taken a toll on my mental health”

Ginnivan on the intensity of spotlight.


— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) July 30, 2022

It now seems that the bias has followed him to Hawthorn. In the Hawks’ Easter Monday loss to Geelong, Ginnivan was collected high in the first half twice, in tackles from Zach Guthrie and Max Holmes, and then several times again in the second – including clear high contact from a Cat’s spoil that was, once again, overlooked.

Despite Fox Footy’s Jason Dunstall arguing Ginnivan has ‘created a rod for his own back’ from previous incidents of ‘milking’, co-commentator David King pointed out that there were 11 free kicks for high contact in the first half of the Hawthorn-Geelong game… while both of Ginnivan’s were non-calls.

“There are two sets of rules, it is as simple as that,” King said.

“[Dylan] Moore is doing the same thing. 11 [frees] today, and none to Jack. The case rests.

“They have two sets of rules, it’s as simple as that.”

The Fox Footy panel fire up over high free kicks and Jack Ginnivan!

???? Watch #AFLHawksCats LIVE on ch. 504 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) April 1, 2024

“The only guy out there not getting free kicks is the one with sleeves on.”

Ginnivan’s dwindling free kick numbers make for remarkable reading: he received 22 high tackle frees in 2022, but just four in 2023, and after three games as a Hawk he has apparently only once been taken high illegally.

Hawks coach Sam Mitchell has thus far sidestepped the issue, saying post-match he ‘will get in touch with the AFL this week’ if he and his fellow coaches believe the 21-year old has been unfairly treated.

But maybe Mitchell needs to fight fire with fire.

A campaign appears to have formed against Ginnivan, and what he confessed to in 2022 as a 19-year-old, and as a result free kicks that are being awarded to every other footballer in the AFL – including his Hawks teammates – are simply not being given when, as King puts it, the bloke being taken high is wearing brown and gold sleeves.

Rather than take the diplomatic approach, his new club and coach should be crying from the rooftops of Waverley Park to try and reverse this trend before it gets worse.

Jack Ginnivan – playing under a different set of rules? (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Whether you like Ginnivan or hate him, the mounting evidence of bias against him is not a good look. Yes, umpires have got on top of him milking free kicks, but it has now gone to the other extreme.

The balance between a player being held accountable for when they contribute to receiving high contact, and being protected from such reckless tackles, is out of whack.

Sure, Ginnivan does have a reputation for faking contact, and has played for free kicks in the past – it’s understandable umpires will look at incidents involving him with greater scrutiny knowing his reputation.

But they still need to be trained and experienced enough to determine the genuine from the fake, because they certainly aren’t applying high contact rules anywhere near as strictly when it comes to every single other player in the game.

If everyone else receives a free when an opposition player touches their head – which was very much the case on Easter Monday – so should Ginnivan. His past should have no effect.

Missed high tackles could easily create a situation where opposition players start to believe in the ‘Ginnivan bias’, and know they don’t need to be as careful when tackling him. It only takes one to go horribly wrong for serious consequences.

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The AFL needs to get its head out of the sand and realise this is a serious issue, one attracting widespread condemnation from around the football world.

The longer the league and its umpires pretend there is nothing to see here, the situation becomes more embarrassing than anything Ginnivan could do himself.

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