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The "Secret" Signals Between Umpires in Australian Football

In the Australian Rules Football (AFL) domestic competition, each match has nine referees who act as a team to determine the rules of the game. There are three field referees, four boundary referees and two goal referees. To create a successful game from their perspective, they must work as a team during play. the field and goal umpires and finally the goal and boundary umpires work in small teams in the game.

These working relationships are facilitated by the use of signals between each group to ensure the smooth running of the game.

Initially, it is the goal umpires’ responsibility to get the team to the ring on time and to ensure that each of the other umpires is properly dressed and has their equipment. (Whistles, pens and report forms). Once on the pitch, with the game ready to begin, the pitch referees take control.

Below is a discussion of how each referee group communicates during a match.

Field-to-field referees:

A referee will start each section of the game and control the game until they get too far away that they verbally hand over the game by saying “over” to the referee closest to the game, then move to his next position on the pitch. If he wants to maintain control due to a stoppage of play, he pats his back, usually three times, while the other referees adjust their judging position for the next continuation of play.

The field referee who controls play will give signals designed for the players. These may involve a play on call and signal or a signal to indicate a free kick and why it has been awarded.

Field and boundary referees:

The boundary referee decides when the ball crosses the boundary line. He indicates this by whistling and raising his arm(s) to indicate how the ball crossed the boundary line.

If the ball goes out of bounds after bouncing, the limits umpire raises his arm vertically while whistling to indicate that the ball is out of bounds. The field referees whistle and signal a throwing action above his head to indicate to the referee limits to put the ball in play.

If the ball flies completely over the boundary line, the boundary referees raise both arms parallel to the ground and indicate where the ball crosses the boundary line for the field referee to place the opposing player on the mark to allow a free kick . taken by the attacking player.

If the ball crosses the boundary line but has been touched in flight, the boundary umpire raises one arm vertically and strikes their raised arm three times to indicate that it has been touched. Then, if he appears to have been kicked to the max but has gone off the leg above the knee, the boundaries umpire will tap his knee three times to indicate that this is happening.

When the ball is in the back post area, there are three scenarios. They are:

  • Out of bounds on the full when hitting the back post; (The boundary referee’s arms are extended parallel to the ground and the back post is touched.)

  • Out of bounds hitting the back post on the full but touched; (Ethe boundary referee hits the post and then indicates that he has been tagged by hitting his raised arms three times)and

  • Out of bounds hitting the back post after bouncing inbounds. (The boundary umpire raises his arm to indicate that the ball is out of bounds).

The base umpire can help in these situations by giving signals to the boundary umpire:

  • Outside arm raised parallel to the ground to indicate the ball has gone full out or hit the back post full. It will also hit the post.

  • If the ball is simply out of bounds, he raises his outside arm vertically. Again, if he hits the post after bouncing, he will also hit the post behind.

Field and goal referees;

When a score is detected by a goal umpire, he will walk towards the goal line, stop and wait to get the “all clear” from the field umpire. There are five scenarios here. They are

  • A goal is scored; (The field referee will place both hands on either side of his face and say “it’s all clear”).

  • A behind is marked; (The field referee will place a hand in front of his face and say “everything is clear”).

  • The ball is touched in flight; (The field referee will place one hand in front of his face, then raise one arm vertically and strike him with the other hand while shouting “hit, all clear”).

  • The field referee is unsure. (He puts both arms behind his back and announces “it’s all clear” indicating it’s the goal umpire’s decision).

Once the green light is given, the goal umpire will announce the result. Sometimes it will indicate that the ball is touched or has touched the goal post by mirroring similar signals made by other referees.

Referees of limits and goals:

The goal and boundary umpires exchange signals. They understand:

  • The base umpire hitting the chest to charge a behind was marked to indicate that the boundary umpire may move along the boundary line ready to resume play. If the base umpire advances for an “all clear” from the pitch referee, he indicates to the boundary referee that a goal has been scored and he and his fellow boundary referee must recover the ball to put it back in the center square.

  • The goal umpire hits the back to indicate that he knows the boundary is up next to the back post.

  • The goal umpire receives a call from the boundary umpire that he is in place next to the back post.

  • The boundary umpire points to the back or the end zone to indicate that a score has been reached by the goal umpire

  • Finally, when a confusing situation arises in the scoring area, the goal umpire crosses the goal line towards the field umpire to indicate that he should hold a conference with all nearby umpires.

In referee training, all of these scenarios are practiced. After each game, “problem” situations are discussed and the actions taken by the various referees are reviewed. Often these “problematic” situations are rarely encountered by most referees and can affect the outcome of the match. The correct procedure is therefore discussed for future use.

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