Three violent brawls involving up to 60 players and spectators erupted at a country Australian Football match between the Westerns and Dartmoor at Alexandra Park in Portland, Victoria on June 19. The incident occurred after the field umpire awarded a free kick to the Westerns in the final seconds of the game because Dartmoor players and officials refused to move back from the boundary line near the coach’s box. According to Robert Chandler, South West District Football League Vice-President:
“He (the umpire) asked them about three times and they wouldn't move. A free kick was awarded and then they started abusing so there was a 50-metre penalty. The siren went and it all escalated from there.”
An on-field brawl ensued, followed by a second when players returned to the change rooms. Spectators became involved in the second brawl, according to police, while attempting to ‘break up’ fighting players. However, a third brawl, ignited outside the change rooms, resulting in a 36-year-old Portland man being punched in the face and left unconscious.
Portland police Acting Sergeant Anthony Handley stated that it is likely that charges will be laid against two spectators. Additionally, both teams have been reported to the League’s Tribunal for engaging in a melee.
This incident raises concerns not only for the clubs and league involved, but more broadly for the sport of Australian Football, particularly at the participation and junior levels of the sport. Violence at local matches is fortunately a relatively rare event in AFL, however such incidents potentially risk damaging the brand of local footy and can be a deterrent to player participation, spectators and sponsorship for the sport.
Club officials must take a strong stand against both on-field and off-field anti-social behaviour for the success of the club and the sport. As competition between codes strengthens each season, no code can afford the brand damage that comes with such negative media. Indeed, in extreme cases, where multiple off-field incidents occur in close succession, some level of collateral brand damage can occur across all codes.
Aggressive behaviour among ‘sporting parents’ is a well documented issue on the junior sporting sideline. The Australian Sports Commission has worked with various sporting stakeholders to produce a Parent /Guardian Code of Behaviour to address this problem. Junior Clubs are advised to seek copies of the Code and ensure that their members adopt it.