Lions boss hits out at stance on gut punches
LIONS CEO Greg Swann has slammed the AFL's soft stance on gut punches and off-the-ball hits saying it has the potential to derail the code's growth in Queensland.
Swann has joined a chorus of senior figures within the game to blast the lenient decisions from Match Review Officer Michael Christian from round one.
Registrations of junior footy in Queensland have increased 12 per cent since last year but Swann says the AFL are in a constant battle with rival codes for "the hearts and minds" of junior participants.
Queensland and New South Wales are the country's most competitive markets for sports and any questions over the safety of players had the potential to be damaging.
Swann believes Christian's decisions to issue fines not suspensions to North Melbourne's Ben Cunnington and Carlton's Liam Jones for of off the ball hits sent the wrong message that will be felt at the grassroots.
"We're locked in to a battle for the hearts and minds of kids, and their parents, with some other very big sports,'' he said.
"Our game is clean, it is a good game to play, so we don't need anything that is going to detract from that.
"Blokes punching off the ball and leaving blokes prone on the ground is not want we want.''
He believes it is dangerous to judge the impact of such actions above the intent, warning there was always the risk of serious injury when a punch was thrown.
"The MRO should have given them a week and let the club decide to challenge it at the tribunal,'' he said.
"That's where the mistake was made.
"If everyone was given a week the tribunal can adjudicate and that's where the precedent is set.''
Local junior footy starts in Brisbane this weekend and on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast the following week and Swann fears the habit of gut punching opponents has the potential to become embedded in the competitions.
Swann saw first-hand how quickly AFL trends found their way to the grassroots over the years he spent coaching when his own son was playing junior footy.
"Everything the stars of the game do, the kids mimic,'' he said.
"If it is happening in an AFL game and the kids see it on TV, they'll copy it.''
AFL Queensland football operations manager Barry Gibson said senior footy in the state followed the same tribunal guidelines laid out by the AFL for all competitions across the country.
He said there had been no directives to change the grading of punches.
Junior football does not fit under the same guidelines and has harsher penalties for striking.