AFL orders clubs to stop ‘ridiculous’ tactic in 2024 season

The AFL has officially ordered clubs to end the ‘ridiculous’ tactic of labelling injuries as ‘short, medium or long term’, with expected return dates now required for the 2024 season.

Geelong, Richmond and Essendon were among those to come under fire from fans and broadcasters for the strategy.

But all clubs must now share its plans for matchday and mid-week injury updates with the AFL as the league enforces the swift and detailed release of information.

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Criticism reached its peak midway through last year when dual premiership player David King said clubs — the Cats in particular — were “treating the fans like fools”.

The changes, initially outlined in the new collective bargaining agreement, were reiterated by the AFL with new details ahead of Opening Round and Round 1.

Clubs have been told to provide injury information “as soon as possible” on matchday.

A player’s status must be declared alongside specific details around the problem, such as left or right side of the body and noting, for example, AC joint for a shoulder issue.

Mid-week updates should also include that information — and, crucially, offer up the number of weeks until an injured player is expected to be available for selection.

“It is not permissible to provide general availability windows, ie short term, medium term, long term,” the AFL wrote in its 2024 policy document.

The shift has already become clear in Geelong’s injury reporting.

After injuries suffered in Round 5 last year required surgery, the Cats said Tyson Stengle (fractured left wrist) and Rhys Stanley (fractured right eye socket) were both out for the ‘medium term’.

But the ambiguity was on full show when Stengle returned in Round 10 while Stanley made his comeback in Round 15.

In a further sign of the discrepancy, Geelong skipper Patrick Dangerfield was ruled out for the ‘short term’ with a left hamstring strain sustained in Round 8.

Yet he went on to miss five games — the same number as Stengle with his ‘medium term’ injury.

Following the introduction of the new rules this year the Cats last week specified Cam Guthrie was “likely to miss 8-10 weeks” when he went down with a right quadricep tendon injury.

Clubs retain the ability to list an injured player’s return date as to be confirmed “if correct at the time … but the status must be updated ASAP to a week-of-return timeline”.

Tyson Stengle’s left wrist kept him out for the ‘medium term’ – which ended up being five weeks. Credit: AAP

Geelong’s tendencies came under fire last year.

“They want to massage the truth with all sorts of reporting, they don’t want to give up and extra information to opposition clubs, which is ridiculous,” King said on SEN.

“At the end of the day, the fans pay the price for that.

“The Geelong injury list is just ridiculous — the short term, medium term and long term. It’s always been 1-2 weeks, 3-4 weeks and five plus.

“And then when something goes wrong, they say ‘you’ve got to trust us, you’ve got to believe us when we tell you this’. Well, we haven’t been able to believe you for the previous five years so why do we have to believe you today?”

“Let’s just be done with all that stuff, you’re treating the fans like fools.”

The new policy arrived alongside details surrounding greater media access to players as agreed in the new CBA.

All players are to be made available, if requested by media, after matches and mid-week but “there is no realistic expectation” for all 23 players to attend a single session as a full group.

The revised requirements sparked questions around Dustin Martin’s response, given he is the most high-profile player who largely shuns the spotlight.

Fines of $10,000 for players and $20,000 for clubs are reportedly on the cards if requests are repeatedly rejected.

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