Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Getting to grips with the world’s most libertarian sport

NOW THAT AFL IS finally coming to New Zealand, coming in its full-on, playing-for-points zeal,* NZers will begin to get some inkling of the obsession fans have with this absorbing sport played out on a huge stage—a sport that every commentator agrees is best seen live.

Time then to get to grips with the world’s most libertarian sport.

Why do I call it that?

Because at root all the rules, and they are very few, are designed to keep play moving, to protect the bloke going for the ball, and to stop anyone initiating force against anyone else. Unless they’re Dermot Brereton.

Simple, huh?

So in two hours of footy, you get two hours of footy.  Not ten minutes of action and several hours of standing around watching blokes blowing hard (like you get in some games I could mention, ahem**). Like, where’s the pleasure in that?

The aim of the game is to stop whistle-happy Hitlers from destroying it. Oh sure, they try. But they’re not the main event. Most followers of the game don’t even know their names (unless their name is Chelsea Roffey).  They refer to them simply as: 'white maggots'.

The rulebook itself is a pocket-sized A6 with only pages, most if it telling you how to mark out the ground and to restart the game when the ball leaves the oval. (Did I mention the ground is an oval, so there’s no corners to get bottled up in.)

The book is made small enough to stick in your pocket so that even white maggots and Collingwood fans have no excuse for not knowing the rules. The guts of it is the 'Spirit of the Laws,' which is barely fifty words telling you how to tackle (between knees and shoulders, please, and don’t touch the head); not to drop or throw the ball even if you are tackled (which is why players use either a kick or a handball to pass); and not to take a ball into a tackle if you’ve had a prior opportunity to get rid of it. Oh yes, there are big hits, as you can see here, but while the Sydney Swans reckon they play like the All Blacks, the game is designed for blokes who run around their opposition, not for for blokes who like to run into them.

And the game just keeps going so fast there’s barely even time to go to the bar, except the breaks between quarters. It keeps going because there’s no offsides, no long stoppages every time someone knocks the bloody ball on or shepherds someone else near the ball (there’s no rules against either), and when the ball goes out or gets tangled up its re-started with a simple but exciting ball-up. 

Really, the only time the game stops apart from occasional free kicks is when some bloke pulls down the Sherrin from the sky—at which point even the supporters of the other team will rise up in acknowledgement of greatness.

Unless it’s in a Grand Final.

So, simple rules for the world’s most exciting and liberating code of football. (Simple, because Australians have to be able to understand them.)***

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 laws are usually best.

The result is what you see on the park: magic, excitement, and the spontaneous order that develops when the shackles come off.

Just like libertarianism.

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 off the park, 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:

We hold these truths to be demonstrable in reality: that because the mind is our species' means of survival and full flourishing, human beings are individually possessed of certain inalienable rights, which are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of private property and happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers - and only such powers - from the consent of the governed; that all laws legislated by governments must be for the purpose of securing these rights; that no laws legislated by government may violate these rights; that all citizens are equal before such laws; and that whenever any government becomes destructive of these rights, it is in rebellion against its citizens, who may then remove it and institute new government.

Simple, timeless principles - with a certain debt to Thomas Jefferson. These principles come from a proposed Constitution for New Freeland drawn up several moons ago by some smart chaps and chapesses, among whom might have been Deborah Coddington (which is interesting, don’t you think). Simple rules that tie up the govt, and attempt to ensure that for your three score and ten years of life you get to go hard for three score years and ten, and not get bogged down in a morass of rules, restrictions, and government revenue-gathering.

The purpose of such a constitution (and the original purpose of the US Constitution) is to tie up the govt, not to tie up the game; to tie up the referees, so that - as with Aussie Rules - the govt's whistles are only blown when someone is inflicting force on someone else. To restrict govt, in other words, to protecting me from you, and you from me. And that's it.

This is a very simple idea: The idea that my freedom ends where your nose begins (and if you look carefully at my photograph above, you will see that some of us do get more freedom than others). This is a very simple idea, one easily expressed in law, and possibly the most important idea you will ever hear.

But simple truths still need to be understood. To argue for these simple ideas, we must first understand them. The realisation that you have a right to live for your own sake has been lost in the US. As bad as this is, its constitution - great, simple, and small as it was - has been buried in the process.

I make two recommendations. The first: that  New Zealand's laws be made simple, objective, principled, constitutional- and minimal in their intrusion into the lives of New Zealanders. (And you all make a point of telling that to the governments travelling dog-and-pony constitution roadshow). The second: that we slow down on the rugby and start playing (or at least watching!) more Aussie Rules.

Although the Australians would beat us more than we’d like, we could hope that at least the bloody French don’t do it so often!

See you at the ground!

PS: Read up on the great game here:

* * * * *

* Well, if “zeal” is really the right word to describe the way St Kilda is presently playing.

**  In  the average eighty-minute game of rugby now, you're lucky to see thirty-five minutes of action - the rest is players walking around, kicking for position, preening for the cameras, spitting on the ground, and arguing with the referee about the rules (can anyone actually follow all the rules in the rulebook, and agree with anyone else about what they all mean?)
     It’s even worse if there’s a northern hemisphere ref on the park. In that case, you're lucky to see any decent action at all - apart from arguments with him.
   American “Football” is even worse. The 2001 Superbowl won by the Baltimore Ravens was probably the most boring game of any code of all time - barely 18 minutes of action over 3 hours!! And grid iron, as anyone knows who has ever tried to follow it, is truly a complicated game.

*** So simple there’s mostly easy to understand. Well, except that no-one—not even the umpires—understand the new law banning sliding into a players’ knees.  But what can you do when an the game’s Rules Committee is so passionately dedicated to stuffing up its game?


  1. I agree with your comments on the Constitution.

    But 'Aussie Rules' will struggle to be a global sport as long as it has 'Aussie' in the name. (Just like 'American Football'.)

  2. A great thing about AFL is no part-maoris nor islanders

  3. Agree that its great to watch live, (I even watched club games when I lived in Adelaide). But on TV its hopeless. Because its a multidirectional game, cameras cannot keep pace, and you can get very confused as to what's going on. You also miss the tactical aspects of positional play (there's a lot going on outside of the cameras range as players jostle for position) which make the games so attractive to watch live. Ill still be watching!


  4. Human being: see monster

    "human beings are individually possessed of certain inalienable rights"

    "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"

    A man considered according to the rank he holds in society, with all the rights to which the place he holds entitles him, and the duties which it imposes. 1 Bouv. Inst. no. 137. A human being considered as capable of having rights and or being charged with duties, while a "thing" is the object over which rights may be exercised. (Black's 2nd (1910))

  5. They couldn't be bothered bringing over a decent team - Collingwood! Go the 'Pies!

  6. I couldn't agree more !! Fantastic post!!


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