AFL announces dramatic new rule change

The AFL has reportedly informed clubs that the highly-debated medical substitution will be employed for the 2021 season.

As concussion has become a more prevalent issue for the sport, the AFL hinted at introducing a substitution rule for concussed players during the pre-season.

But the league came under fire this week for postponing their verdict on the rule change, with reports of clubs becoming increasingly agitated.

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Speaking on Fox Footy’s AFL 360, chief executive Gillon McLachlan revealed the league was considering a medical substitution encompassing all injuries, not just concussion.

And less than 36 hours out from the first bounce of the season opener at the MCG, it was confirmed medical substitutions — encompassing all injuries, not just concussion — had been given the green light.

Footy boss Steve Hocking confirmed the news with football managers on Wednesday morning. Hocking is scheduled to front the media at 12pm AEDT to answer questions about the controversial decision.

Dustin Martin of the Tigers.Source:Getty Images

The new rule will allow clubs to replace an injured player with a “23rd man” — a previously-selected squad member not in the team’s starting 22.

An injury substitution will be possible if a club doctor rules a player out for the remainder of a match.

The club doctor can only sub out a player if he believes the injury will sideline him for at least 12 days.

If that player is concussed, they will be forced to sit out for the next 12 days. However, if it is for a different injury, then that player must be assessed and cleared by the AFL chief medical officer in order to be eligible to play the following round.

“This is something that’ll have no impact on the game, the rules,” McLachlan said on AFL 360. “It’s a health and safety possibility that I think makes sense if the clubs and coaches want to support it.”

However, there are lingering concerns clubs will find a way to exploit the rule change, several pundits calling for subbed off players to be required to spend one week on the sidelines.

When asked on Wednesday how confident he was that clubs wouldn’t manipulate the new rule, McLachlan responded: “Well, that’s part of the contest isn’t it? I think we’re all realistic to know that once a stake goes in the ground everyone looks at it from different angles. It’s about health and safety.”

Medical sub it is. Surely a player who comes off will have to miss at least one match.

The AFL will today announce the sub rule will be an overall medical sub. Cue all sorts of manipulation you’d think – unless a subbed player can’t play the following week.

What happens if you suffer 2+ injuries/concussions? You’re at a loss again. Bandaid rule changes ain’t the answer for mine. #AFL

Three-time premiership captain Trent Cotchin threw his support behind the substitute plan this week, emphasising the importance of player safety.

“It’s important that we protect the players and make sure that they don’t feel like they’re letting teammates down if they don’t play,” Cotchin said.

“With the education that’s around it and the way it typically impacts you, not just now but also down the track in your life.

“I think we’re aware of how significant concussion can be.

“We just want to make sure that we create a really safe environment for players to play.”

More to come …

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