The game has the highest spectator attendance and television viewership of all sports in Australia.
The annual Grand Final is the highest attended club championship event in the world.
The game features frequent physical contests, spectacular marking, fast movement of both players and the ball and high scoring.
Points are scored by kicking the oval-shaped ball between goal posts (worth six points) or between goal and "behind" posts (worth one point).
During general play, players may position themselves anywhere on the field and use any part of their bodies to move the ball. The primary methods of ball-movement are kicking, handballing and running with the ball.
There are rules on how the ball can be handled. For example, players running with the ball must intermittently bounce or touch it on the ground.
A distinctive feature of the game is the mark, where players anywhere on the field who catch the ball from a kick (with specific conditions) are awarded possession.
Possession of the ball is in dispute at all times except when a free kick or mark is paid. Throwing the ball is not allowed and players must not get caught holding the ball.
Players can tackle using their hands or use their whole body to obstruct opponents.
Dangerous physical contact such as pushing an opponent in the back, interference when marking and deliberately slowing the play are not allowed, with free kicks, fifty‑metre penalties or suspension for a number of matches, depending on the seriousness of the infringement.
The AFL Commission approved several alterations to the rules of the game, to come into effect for the 2019 season.
With respect to 50 metre penalties, the player with the ball:
With respect to kicks after the siren, a player in this situation:
The 'hands in the back' rule interpretation has been repealed so a player can now:
Where there is uncertainty over who is the designated ruckman, the ruckman for each team will still be required to nominate to the field umpire.
Until 1991, Australian football had no structure in place to break a tie in a finals game. As such, the teams would reconvene the following week to replay their game, pushing back the rest of the finals schedule by one week.
This caused controversy in 1990, when the qualifying final between Collingwood and West Coast was drawn. It meant that the minor premiers Essendon had a two-weekend bye instead of one, and many insisted that the extended layoff had contributed to their losses to Collingwood, both in the second semi-final and in the grand final.
In the days after the 2010 drawn grand final (before the replay), a provision was added that extra time be played if the replay were drawn, rather than playing a second replay.
In 2016, the grand final replay was abolished, and drawn grand finals are now resolved with two five-minute periods of extra time, the same as all premiership final series matches,
However, if the teams are again tied after extra time, play would continue uninterrupted and the final siren would only sound when the deadlock was broken by a premiership-deciding golden score.
How It Works:
If scores are tied at the end of the second period of additional time the siren will not sound and play will continue until a score occurs - a golden score!
That's all perfectly satisfactory on a perfectly still day. But what if a breeze favours one end? Admittedly, if there's wind at the MCG it generally swirls, but it can favour an end.
The golden score concept could also cast undue influence over which teams actually make the Grand Final, given the same rule is in place for all finals. And wind advantage would probably be a bigger issue at venues such as the Gabba, Giants Stadium, Adelaide Oval, the SCG and Kardinia Park (if Geelong is ever awarded another home final).
The AFL often espouses the virtues of fairness and integrity, yet it still has a rule that could unfairly decide a premiership.2
Team A has the wind in the first period of extra time and rattles on three unanswered goals, before Team B returns the favour in the second period to level the scores again.
Team B, which remains aided by the breeze for the rest of the contest regardless of how long it continues, locks the ball in its front half.
Team A defends gallantly for the next 10 minutes but is eventually overwhelmed and concedes a behind.
Team B wins the premiership by the barest of margins after having the breeze for 15 of the 20 minutes of extra time.
In this instance the integrity of our game's Holy Grail – the premiership – would be compromised.
Without doubt, the kneejerk reaction would be to belatedly change the rule. Which only begs the question: why wait for this scenario to explode when it can be fixed now?
Even a slight wind advantage is still an advantage.
Mercifully, the rule hasn't yet been invoked – and, clearly, it's highly unlikely that it ever will be.
History is a good guide on this. There were just three drawn Grand Finals and subsequent replays: in 1948, 1977 and 2010. So the chance of our breezy hypothetical becoming reality is even more remote.
But as cricket fans were reminded after the recent World Cup final, sport never ceases to amaze when it comes to producing miraculous circumstances.
The World Cup cricket final in July was an epic contest marred by a farcical finish that left many fans stumped. England and New Zealand tied twice, the second time after a 'super over' (cricket's version of extra time), and the greatest short-form cricket match in history was then decided by a poorly-conceived rule that awarded victory to England because they'd hit more boundaries.
It was like giving the premiership to the team that kicked the most goals from outside 50!
The league has implemented equalisation measures (the draft system, the salary cap, the football department soft cap, and revenue sharing), and it now needs to ensure all teams have an equal chance of winning a wind‑affected extra-time final.
The obvious solution would be to simply play more extra time, and repeat if need be. It would remove the minutest possibility of injustice.
However, the status quo is set to remain with the League confirming that there are no plans to change the existing rules at this stage.
So, just to be safe, captains in finals would be wise to adopt a strategy at the coin toss to give their teams their best chance of victory. Given teams don't swap ends between the end of regular time and the start of extra time, skippers should kick with the wind in the first quarter so that they might also have it at their backs if they need a golden score.