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AFL to appeal Houli sentence as "good bloke" defence questioned

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UPDATED | The AFL will appeal the two-week suspension handed to Richmond’s Bachar Houli for knocking out Carlton’s Jed Lamb, believing the sanction to be “manifestly inadequate”.

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In a ruling last night, the AFL Tribunal deemed Houli’s strike on Lamb as intentional and of high impact to the head, but chose to ban him for just two matches.

The appeal will be held tomorrow evening.

AFL football operations manager Simon Lethlean informed Richmond shortly before midday that the AFL was taking the case to the Appeals Board.

Lethlean said the appeal had been lodged on the grounds that “the sanction imposed was manifestly inadequate”.

The AFL had initially argued for a four-week sanction.

The tribunal jury – comprising David Neitz, Hamish McIntosh and Wayne Henwood – dismissed Houli’s argument the incident was careless instead of intentional conduct.

But the AFL tribunal’s decision to hand Houli a two-match ban – citing his exemplary character – put the league in a tricky position.

Houli is clearly one of the game’s ambassadors, with references from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – via a transcript of a speech given at a function at Punt Road yesterday – and Monash University academic and Channel 10 presenter Waleed Aly a key part of the jury’s penalty deliberations.

The decision was much to the consternation of AFL match review panel member Nathan Burke.

“I would probably much prefer if you just looked purely at the incident and graded it on that,” Burke told Fox Sports News.

“If you start bringing in ‘this bloke’s a good bloke, this bloke’s not a good bloke’, who are we to actually judge who is a good bloke and who isn’t in the first place?

“And then what we end up with are disparate sentences. If somebody goes in next week and does exactly the same thing, but doesn’t know Waleed Aly, doesn’t know the Prime Minister, does that mean they get three or four weeks?

“That’s potentially where the issue lies.”

Former tribunal member Daniel Harford says Houli’s ban was “absolutely, manifestly inadequate” and rubbing him out for six weeks could be considered a fair punishment.

“You cannot have a situation with a player willingly, which was deemed by the tribunal, hitting someone … with force enough to knock someone out cold, to serve a two-week suspension,” Harford said on RSN radio today.

“I don’t care how good a bloke is Monday to Friday… it’s no relevance to what he does on the field.”

The case was referred directly to the tribunal under the MRP guidelines, but the final sanction is the same as it would have been if it had been assessed as careless conduct with high impact to the head – three games down to two with an early plea.

The devout Muslim was clearly disappointed by the finding after stating in his evidence, “I’ve never, ever, intended to hurt anyone – it’s part of my practise of my religion. I’m a peaceful person.”

He refused to speak to gathered journalists as he left the hearing.

The 29-year-old has played 162 AFL games over 11 seasons and eight years as a junior without being suspended. His only disciplinary blemish was a fine for wrestling Greater Western Sydney’s Rhys Palmer in 2014.

In the other case heard last night, West Coast’s Will Schofield was found not guilty of striking Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver.

Schofield risked a two-match ban if unsuccessful after he was charged with striking Oliver – who was accused of taking a dive – in an incident assessed as intentional conduct with low impact to the head.

The Eagles successfully argued the impact was negligent and Schofield was found not guilty.

Oliver had been widely panned for making too much of the contact, but his defence of his actions had helped the case progress to the tribunal.

It also prompted a brief Twitter spat with former Test cricketer Damien Martyn, who likened Oliver’s fall to a dive in soccer.

https://twitter.com/damienmartyn/status/878766559665180673

Oliver’s teammate Max Gawn said earlier yesterday: “It was a bit surprising. I wasn’t expecting Damien Martyn to pop up in my Twitter feed.”

“I think Clayton probably regrets sending a tweet out because of the amount of tweets he got back to him but it’s all a bit of fun,” he said.

“The clip that he sent was before he was born, which was quite interesting, so obviously (teammate) Colin Garland has given him a few cricket tips there. Maybe just (don’t) sledge for a couple of weeks.”

-AAP

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