The AFL’s Tribunal system is an overcomplicated mess designed to create drama – it needs a radical overhaul, fast


Charlie Cameron did not end up kicking a single point in Brisbane’s 26-point loss to Geelong and finished with just eight disposals – so you could say he had a quiet game based on his standards.

It, of course, comes after a turbulent week where he was thrown into the media spotlight after the AFL Tribunal controversially overturned his one-match ban for a dangerous tackle on Melbourne’s Jake Lever.

The fact the Tribunal downgraded the tackle from ‘medium’ to ‘low’ impact in itself was not the contentious part that had the footy world up in arms and scratching their heads; it was the fact that Cameron’s legal team was allowed to get away with using the old ‘good behaviour’ excuse based on his prior record.

Many would be saying that ‘justice’ was served by his poor game on the field – but the precedent it has now set is worrying moving forward.

What exactly is the definition of good behaviour, and how will it be applied in the weeks and months ahead? How many others will try to use that defence, and will there be consistency? Especially considering Cameron was far from a cleanskin when it comes to being charged, having been fined five times previously without clearing the threshold to trigger a ban.

‘I’m stunned by that.’

Charlie Cameron is free to play after “exceptional and compelling circumstances.”

????Watch #AFL360 on Ch. 504 or stream via @kayosports:

— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) April 16, 2024

It’s not the first time good character has been used in a tribunal hearing. Former Roar writer Maddy Friend discussed whether character references should play a role in Tribunal decisions back in 2018 surrounding the Andrew Gaff striking case, where he received an eight-week ban for the hit that left Andrew Brayshaw with a broken jaw and three dislodged teeth.

Gaff’s lawyer spent the first ten minutes listing all of his sporting and academic achievements. He noted that his client had never received a citation of any kind at any level and the Eagle also had ten written character references.

Pardon my ignorance here, but what have academic achievements and character references got to do with breaking a guy’s jaw on the field?

Andrew Brayshaw left the ground bleeding from the mouth after an incident involving Andrew Gaff.#AFLEaglesFreo

— AFL (@AFL) August 5, 2018

Being a good, kind, or even charitable person does not change the fact that an illegal action has been committed – whether you have the reputation of the Pope or Jack the Ripper.

It is time the Tribunal became more simplistic, closed the numerous loopholes AFL clubs and their lawyers are pushing through with ease, and became representative of the game that it is trying to serve.

In its own Tribunal policy document, the AFL notes the balance that it has to strike between providing ‘natural justice’ without the cumbersome red tape involved in legal proceedings in a court of law.

“As required by Regulation 19.3 of the AFL Regulations, the Tribunal must accord natural justice in its operation albeit cognisant that procedural fairness is a flexible obligation that requires the adoption of fair procedures that are appropriate and adapted to the circumstances of a sporting tribunal and of the particular case. The content of the requirement of natural justice is also informed by the requirement that the Tribunal’s processes should be fair and efficient with minimal formality, and expressly acknowledging that the Tribunal is not conducting court proceedings.”

Note the terms, ‘fair and efficient’ and ‘minimal formality’. Does that describe the current-day Tribunal?

Year by year and case by case, it is becoming more and more like what the AFL didn’t want it to become – exactly like a courtroom, where every skerrick of evidence or vagary in the rules is blown up and used to overturn bans.

As another example of the excessive complexity present in Tribunal cases these days, Brayden Maynard’s hearing last year for his bump on Angus Brayshaw heavily featured a professor who had a background in biomechanics and neuromuscular science.

He was there to tell the tribunal that ‘once airborne, Mr Maynard had no opportunity to avoid the collision’, supporting Collingwood’s argument that it was difficult to see how he ‘would have been able to make any conscious decision to reposition his body’.

In his evidence, the professor took it down to the fine margins, stating that Maynard would have had ‘no more than 400 milliseconds’ to respond.

#Breaking: Collingwood’s Brayden Maynard has been CLEARED of a rough conduct charge, following a collision which left Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw concussed. Maynard will be eligible to play in the Pies’ remaining finals of the 2023 season.

— Tyson Whelan (@tyson_whelan) September 12, 2023

Really? Hundreds of milliseconds? It takes you longer to read this one word.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose the Maynard ban, is that how we want to see the game adjudicated? By outside experts sitting around in quiet rooms after the fact, miles away from the hectic nature of the game with the sole purpose of getting someone freed to play next week?

This is what it has become, and likely will again when Toby Greene fronts the Tribunal on Tuesday night – applying academic formulas, trying to freeze-frame footage and guessing the subjective nature of what may or may not be going through a player’s mind – and retrospectively giving him options that he should have considered in the moment.

I can guarantee that Maynard would not have had the time in that 400 milliseconds to think of all the evidence that the expert laid out to get him off the suspension. It’s all afterthoughts.

Support your AFL team in style – check out The Oodie! They’ve got Adult Oodies for all 18 teams as well as Kids Oodies and even Dog Oodies available in selected teams.  Made from the softest, premium fabrics they are the comfiest memorabilia you’ll ever wear!  #GetYourOodieOn

We are overcomplicating a hard and fast ‘real-time’ game to the point where moments within moments are over-analysed to the point where they are taken out of context. There is no need for these experts or character references -an illegal hit is an illegal hit if you seriously want the game cleaned up and players held accountable for their actions.

I hear people screaming at me that in a fast-paced game, accidents happen. That’s right – but with the freedom of playing the game comes responsibility, and there are consequences when things do go wrong.

If it means a Brownlow Medal contender missing a game, then so be it. We need people in the role who are not afraid of those big decisions.

Again, I refer back to the AFL’s document on the Tribunal system. For all three cases above, Cameron, Gaff and Maynard, the Tribunal had the option to exercise commonsense.

“In assessing the evidence and determining the facts each Tribunal member must make use of their common sense and their experience of life… Each Tribunal member should judge the evidence fairly and impartially in the light of their common sense, their experience of life and, where appropriate, their experience as footballers.”

This means they have a conscious decision whether to accept the evidence presented before them or dismiss it out of hand. They should be shrewd enough to see through weak or misleading arguments.

Sports opinion delivered daily 


I suppose it is good in one way that the AFL is putting the entire process on paper in documents like this so it is clear for clubs and fans as to what the process is, so there is no argument for unreasonableness down the track.

But even the summary 20-page document is written in convoluted legal jargon that takes people outside the profession quite a few read-throughs to break down what it really means.

Going forward, the AFL needs to decide what the role of the Tribunal is. Is it there to actually try and bring about a correction of illegal and dangerous acts in a way that actually tries to make a difference, or is it only there for show, to provide a ‘Law and Order’-style drama to fill pages and radio air time, and make it look like it’s doing something serious?

The more complex the process and decisions are allowed to become, the more loopholes clubs and players will find to suit their own objectives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.