There shouldn’t be a witch-hunt to find umpires who breached Brownlow Medal phone protocols, writes Sam Landsberger. It’s time for the AFL to face reality, instead.

Mobile phones and sports integrity do not mix – just ask Emily Smith.

Cricket Australia suspended the WBBL player for 12 months (nine suspended) after the prankster posted Hobart Hurricanes’ line-up on Instagram about an hour before its scheduled release.

The match in 2019 was washed out and CA acknowledged she showed no intent to breach the anti-corruption code. But the crime was serious because of potential betting implications.

So why would AFL umpires access their phones to look at statistics before voting on the Brownlow Medal when they surely know they’re not allowed?

The answer is sadly written with foul words in the Instagram inboxes of countless players every week – gambling.

“Not one AFL player gives a flying f— how we cost you a $100 multi, it’s (a) $5 bet you idiot,” ex-Brisbane Lion Mitch Robinson once tweeted.

“Death threats & ‘hope you do your ACL next game’.”

Port Adelaide’s Zak Butters once received: “Listen here you little c**t do you know what I lost on you, you f**king useless bastard”.

Western Bulldog Josh Bruce tweeted: “30+ minimum abusive messages a week, mainly around gambling. The delete all button gets a good work out without reading – serious problem that would affect younger players/ones with mental health and confidence issues already”.

AFL umpires don’t want to get Brownlow Medal votes wrong, and if you watched Channel 7’s coverage of last year’s count that’s with good reason.

Every few minutes it seemed there were crosses to bookmakers advertising odds on the next round.

Who will poll three votes in round 7? What odds is Patrick Cripps after polling seven votes in the first three games?

Punters can even bet on apps during the count when usually a phonecall is required for gambling on a live event in Australia.

It doesn’t feel right and you have to feel for the umpires.

It seems peculiar that in this age they wouldn’t be given the stats anyway. It’s not as if Norm Smith Medal voters are denied access.

Anti-gambling campaigner Tim Costello’s claims that umpires are checking the stats before casting their votes stacked up with information given to the Herald Sun from AFL umpiring sources last year.

It was believed umpires would open the AFL app in the privacy of their changerooms for a peek at the numbers.

The AFL will point to its Brownlow Medal voting process, which states mobile phones cannot be retrieved by umpires until after the votes have been submitted.

But every workplace would have policies and procedures that aren’t always followed.

The AFL is now odds-on to crackdown on locking away phones in 2023, and with good reason.

But the reality is if umpires are also denied stats when some have previously been consulting the numbers then casting this year’s 3-2-1 could spit out some surprising results.

This shouldn’t be a witch-hunt to find umpires who breached protocols.

Instead, it should be a moment for the AFL to look into the mirror and reassess the purity of the Brownlow Medal.

Originally published as Brownlow Medal betting: The AFL needs to look in the mirror in wake of umpire phone claims

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