WARRNAMBOOL football umpires’ boss Arno Pennings has slammed a statewide rule which denies footballers giving evidence at tribunal hearings the chance to have their own advocate.
Pennings yesterday vented his frustration at a perceived AFL backflip on the issue of whether offended-against footballers deserved to have their own representation.
The issue came to a head last week when Dennington footballer Jono Nevill challenged a two-match ban for striking Kolora-Noorat captain Jonathon Gleeson in the preliminary final.
Gleeson, who suffered concussion and failed to play after the 15-minute mark of the first term, had Colleen O’Connor as an advocate at the initial hearing in Warrnambool last Wednsday.
But O’Connor could not act for Gleeson at the appeal hearing in Melbourne on Friday, which finished with Nevill free to play in the Warrnambool and District league grand final.
Instead, umpires’ advocate Daryl Davey guided Gleeson, who appeared by phone hook-up, through his evidence, as he did earlier in the hearing for reporting umpire Mick Soulsby.
Pennings said the Warrnambool and District Football Umpires Association (WDFUA) was unaware the same advocate had to act for the umpire and offended-against player.
He said the rule contradicted the guidelines for tribunal hearings which appear in the 2013 AFL Victoria Country handbook.
The revelations mean every tribunal hearing in Warrnambool this season has followed an incorrect process.
“I’ve got to stress this has nothing to do with Dennington Football Netball Club or the player concerned, or the Kolora-Noorat Football Netball Club,” Pennings said.
“We are concerned with the processes of AFL Victoria Country in that the struck player could be there by phone hook-up (and not in person).
“Apparently the rules have changed in that the offended player doesn’t have an advocate. They’ve changed the rules yet they haven’t told any league or association of the rule changes.”
Pennings said the newly-learnt rule would have ramifications for the way tribunal hearings ran in Warrnambool.
He said the same advocate acting for the umpire and player could cause problems if the two presented different evidence, potentially leaving the player in contempt.
Players would also not appreciate having an umpires’ advocate defend them, meaning leagues and the WDFUA would have to fund an independent advocate, akin to an investigations officer.
“They’ve got to have a look at the tribunal system and appeal system,” Pennings said.
“If they’re going to go down the path of not having the offended player represented, they really have to have a look at that.
“Every party should have someone (of their choice) representing them.”
AFL Victoria Country operations manager Gerard Ryan said he had been in touch with Pennings about the issue.
Ryan said the handbook contained incorrect information which officials would rectify next season.
“The appeals panel has determined that the way it should be read is the offended-against player is a witness for the prosecution,” he said.
“The way the handbook is written is incorrect as it stands. It will be altered for next year to be in line with the way the appeal panel — the people who determine the judiciary for us — sees it.”
Pennings said the WDFUA was disappointed with the decision to clear Nevill for striking. The appeal panel found there was insufficient evidence to uphold the initial two-match ban.