08 September 2014

Strip clashes: Why can't the AFL get it right?

Yesterday's AFL Elimination Final between Port Adelaide and Richmond was hard to watch, and not only because of Richmond's painful performance. I found that the combination of bright sun and deep shade at the Adelaide Oval plus the confusingly similar strips of the teams made for very difficult TV viewing. And I simply couldn't understand why that was the case, when the issue of a strip clash had been raised and - I thought - settled during the week, with the unusual decision to allow Port to wear its traditional SANFL "prison bars" stripes. Yet again, the AFL got it wrong, and it continues to set itself up for failure by not having a simple, fail-safe strip policy.

Some teams and supporters seem to be stuck in the 1950s with the concept of black shorts for the home team and white shorts for the visitors. But that harks back to an era when every team had its own home ground. The concept of "home" and "away" games is meaningless in 2014 - the vast majority of AFL games are played at a ground where neither team is actually at "home" - yet the AFL seems to be gutless about dragging these laggards into the 21st century.

It's actually pretty simple. Teams don't need a "home strip" and an "away strip" as well as a "clash strip" - that's just unnecessarily complicated and confusing. I'm not a neuropsychologist, but I know that it's a basic precept of visual cognition that the eye and brain differentiate objects more rapidly and easily when they contrast. This applies to players as much as it does to spectators and TV viewers, although the limitations of image capture and reproduction make it even more crucial for TV audiences.

To maximise contrast in every game, every AFL team needs just two strips - one predominantly dark and one predominantly light. Forget the irrelevant "home" and "away" shorts - the colour of the shorts goes with whether the strip is predominantly dark or light. Let the home team choose first, or toss for it. And AFL teams should be forced to comply with the light/dark protocol. If they dig their heels in, they will be continuing to damage the game as a whole. While we're at it, guernsey designers should forget fancy swooshes and ribbons and stylised animals - just stick to traditional stripes, sashes, hoops and yokes. From a few rows back or on TV, you can't tell whether that's a majestic swooping brown hawk on the jumper or just a big skid mark.

Why Richmond and Port Adelaide couldn't have played yesterday in the colours they're wearing in the picture above is beyond me. Port had a huge home ground advantage anyway - what difference could it possibly have made what colour shorts they were wearing?

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