50-metre penalty

In the sport of Australian rules football, the 50-metre penalty is applied by umpires to a number of different infractions when a free kick or mark has already been paid.

Some (particularly amateur) leagues and competitions use a 25-metre penalty. Examples of this include the South Australian National Football League (SANFL), Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA), Australian Football International Cup and the Australian Amateur Football Council.


When the umpire pays a 50-metre penalty, he calls time-off, measures out approximately fifty metres from the spot of the mark by running in a straight line towards the goals, and setting the new mark, unless:

  • the player is already within 50 metres of goal, in which case the mark becomes the exact centre of the goal line.
  • in the Australian Football League's (AFL's) preseason competition, where a goal kicked from beyond 50m scores nine points instead of six, a team may choose to cut short a fifty-metre penalty at the fifty-metre line and take the higher-value, longer-range set shot.[1]

Players are given a short period of time to follow the play down the field before the clock is restarted. The player cannot play on while the umpire is measuring out the 50-metre penalty, and must wait for the field umpire to blow time-on.[2]

Infractions which can result in a 50-metre penalty include:

  • Arguing with, disputing the decision of, or using abusive language towards an umpire.
  • Scragging the player who has taken a mark; that is, to tackle the player or impede him from taking the kick as quickly as he would like. This rule has been applied more stringently since 2006 to give defensive players less time to flood the defence, and to keep the game more flowing.
  • Failing to return the ball quickly and on the full to a player who has been awarded a free kick.
  • Wasting time, deliberately or inadvertently, by kicking the ball forward after one's team has conceded a free kick.
  • Using unnecessary roughness against a player who has already taken a mark.
  • Running over the mark; the man standing on the mark cannot move forward, and must respond if called to recede by the umpire.
  • Running through the mark; other defensive players who are not standing on the mark may not run across the imaginary line between the man standing the mark and the man taking the kick, unless following his direct opponent.
  • Entering the protected zone; defensive players may not impede an opponent by entering or remaining within the corridor of space extending ten metres either side of the imaginary line between the man standing the mark and the man taking the kick, and extending backwards, unless following his direct opponent.
  • If any free kick is paid against the defensive team while a mark or free kick is to be taken, the umpire either pays the free kick to the violated player at the spot of the foul, or awards a 50-metre penalty to the player with the ball, depending upon which penalty brings the attacking team closer to goal.
  • Any free kick resulting from an interchange infringement or a line-up has an additional 50-metre penalty applied to it; these are the only circumstances under which a 50-metre penalty is automatically applied to a free kick without further infringement.


The fifteen-yard penalty was first introduced at senior level by the Victorian Football Association in 1939, as one of the rules included in its rival code of Australian rules football. The rule was introduced to give the umpire a means of penalising a player who cribbed over the mark or wasted time on the mark;[3] under standard rules at the time, such infractions could only be policed by reports.[4] The Australian National Football Council introduced the rule into the national rules during 1954 (leagues began using it in 1955), which was applied to both time-wasting and to crude, late challenges on the player with the mark.[5][6] The length was increased to 50 metres in 1988 when it was determined that the fifteen metre penalty had become insufficient to deter time-wasting and scragging.[7]


Fifty metres is the average length of a long kick. As 50-metre penalties are awarded only to players who have already taken a mark or been awarded a free kick, the penalty is the equivalent of having made a long pass downfield (with the playing area being over 150m long). This interpretation allows the fifty metre length to be adjusted to appropriate values for lower age groups.

With the exception of interchange infringements, a player must already have a free kick or a mark to receive a 50-metre penalty. Often, crowds will call for "fifty!" when they see a player hurt behind play or in a marking contest. However, many fans are unaware that unless the mark is taken, fifty metres can never be awarded. There was an exception to this rule made in 2000, when a 50-metre penalty would automatically be awarded against any player who was reported for a non-wrestling offence; so unpopular was the change that it was repealed after seventeen rounds.

Notable 50-metre penalties

  • The most famous 15-metre penalty occurred in the 1987 preliminary final, in an incident where Melbourne's Jim Stynes ran across the mark against Hawthorn. Gary Buckenara, needing a 55-metre goal after the final siren for Hawthorn to steal the victory, was brought 15 metres closer to goal. Buckenara converted the goal, Hawthorn advanced to the Grand Final, and Melbourne's long premiership drought continued.[8]
  • In 2005 an incident where Essendon's Mark Johnson called an opposition player from Sydney a "weak dog" when he wouldn't get up and was playing for a free kick was rewarded with a 50-metre penalty to the Sydney player. It was also believed Johnson engaged in abusive language with the umpire which may have influenced the decision.[9]
  • During the infamous St Kilda vs Fremantle "Sirengate" match in round 5, 2006, St Kilda full-forward Fraser Gehrig abused and argued with the umpire, gave up five consecutive free kicks: a free kick in defensive goal square, three consecutive 50-metre penalties (spanning the entire length of the field, yielding a certain goal to Fremantle) and an additional free kick to Fremantle after the goal.[10]
  • In Round 1, 2007, umpire Stuart Wenn awarded a short fifty-metre penalty against Collingwood's Heath Shaw after a mark by the Kangaroos' Shannon Grant with three minutes remaining on the game. Wenn positioned Shaw approximately on the kick-off line when he should have been on the goal line. Grant missed the 15-metre set shot, and the Kangaroos lost the game by three points.[11]
  • In Round 11, 2009, triple 50-metre penalties occurred when Sydney Swans' Barry Hall put his arm around the neck of Hawthorn's Jarryd Roughead, who ended up in his own goal square. Hall was benched beside his coach, and Sydney lost the match by eleven points.[12]

See also


  1. St Kilda Football CLub, 2011 NAB Cup Trial Rules Archived 2 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine, 15 December 2010, Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  2. Field Umpire Accreditation Manual (Australian Football League) Archived 28 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  3. "Interpretations of rules". Advocate. Burnie, TAS. 5 August 1939. p. 9.
  4. "Cribbing on the mark". The Daily News. Perth, WA. 4 May 1939. p. 14.
  5. "Fos Williams on 15-yard penalty clause". The News. Adelaide, SA. 13 July 1954. p. 32.
  6. Kevin Hogan (7 April 1955). ""Get tough" order given umpires on new rule". The Sun News-Pictorial. Melbourne, VIC. p. 33.
  7. Daryl Timms (16 March 1988). "'Go' on footy rules". The Sun News-Pictorial. Melbourne, VIC. p. 84.
  8. AFL rule is well worth trying here | Irish Daily Star
  9. AFL Response to MJ Fifty
  10. "~Dockers, Saints and Sirengate~"
  11. Laidley fumes at umpire blunder | News.com.au
  12. [citation needed]
  13. "Heartbreaking Player Profile Shows Nick Riewoldt Stitched Up One Of His Biggest Fans". Triple M. 3 July 2017. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  14. "Footy fans furious after Nick Riewoldt tricks Fremantle". Herald Sun. 2 July 2017. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
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