Monday, 8 May 2006

AFL not libertarian?

Some of you questioned my claim on Friday that AFL is the world's most libertarian sport, and even suggested that "this argument is not particularly serious"! For shame, gentlemen! Would I joke about something like this? :-)

Not only is my claim entirely serious, it's not the size of the rule book alone that makes the argument. As I tried to argue in 2001:
In February, I went to the Aussie Rules at Wellington Stadium, and it was a fantastic spectacle with the Brisbane Lions running over recent champions the Adelaide Crows. We saw high marks, running football, precision kicking - and one or two great shirtfronts. Parked outside was a Ford Falcon painted up by local clubs with the slogan: 'Aussie Rules! What Rules?'

Now, to most people's surprise Australian Football DOES have rules - simple rules based on the principle of keeping the game going, and which don't encourage umpires to grandstand. (In fact, most Australians would be hard pressed to name an AFL umpire. They refer to them simply as: 'white maggots'.)

Aussie Rules' rules are actually quite simple - as they need to be for Australians to follow them - and are designed around three basic principles: to keep the game going, to protect the guy going for the ball, and to stop anyone initiating force against anyone else (while anybody's looking). And they work very well; in fact, in a two-hour game of footy, you have two hours of footy.

The rulebook is barely 30 A6 pages, with almost two thirds of that detailing how tribunals, national bodies, and ground marking are done. The guts of it is the 'Spirit of the Laws' which is barely fifty words. Simple rules for a fascinating game. The book is small enough to stick in your pocket - so that even white maggots and Collingwood fans have no excuse for not knowing the rules.

I draw four pretty simple conclusions from this: the fewer stoppages, the better the game; protection of individuals is a good basis for keeping things flowing; the fewer interventions from maggots the better; and, all else being equal, simple is usually best.

Someone observed once that the Ten Commandments was supposedly written on one piece of stone, the US Constitution on ten pages of parchment, but that European Union regulations on bananas are smeared across four volumes - and no one, not even the bureaucrats - and especially not the banana growers - can understand them. We're not much better here in this country, with about 4000 pages of new regulations introduced by our trigger-happy parliamentarians every year. We're going wrong, and it's time to stop it.

Good law, I suggest, is not pages and pages of empty verbage, but is clear, and terse, and based around simple, easily understandable, objective principles. Simple principles that recognise each individual's right to live and to act for his own sake, and that stop anyone initiating force against any other individual. Something like this...
Read on here. And read here for a report on how rugby is trying to reduce its own rulebook to make the game better, faster and more understandable for everyone. Summary of the proposed 'Stellenbosch' rules here and here. Said Rod MacQueen about the proposals after a week of trial games with the proposed new rules in use, "The ultimate aim of these experimental laws is to allow for more creativity by the players and this week there were encouraging signs such as clarity of decision-making, less confusion among players at the breakdown and reduced law subjectivity."
LINKS: Rugby rules no more! - Peter Cresswell, The Free Radical (Feb, 2001)
Trialling laws mortals can understand - Rugby Heaven
The proposed law changes - Planet Rugby
A look at the new laws - SA Rugby.Com
Rugby law reform project underway - IRB
TAGS: Sport, Libertarianism

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with your position on simple laws for running a country. But despite being called "laws" the rules of a game are not like real laws because there is no compulsion involved. They are more like a contract that all parties willingly agree to before playing the game. If you don't like the rules then you can choose not to play / watch or even set-up your own game with different rules. As I alluded to with my chess analogy the complexity of the rules may be a product of the complexity of the game and indeed may even serve to make the game more interesting.

    And while rugby has more rules than AFL that does not mean that the latter is the "most libertarian" game because, for example, bullrush is even simpler. At best you could argue AFL is more libertarian than rugby. But it doesn't really matter because a libertarian may actually enjoy watching rugby more than AFL in spite of the more complex (or unnecessary as you would argue) rules. And isn't having fun the primary purpose of sport? Which is why I don't think the whole argument is very serious :)


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