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On the ball

Victoria University researchers are uncovering the truth behind Australia’s iconic football. Institute of Sport, Exercise & Active Living director Professor Hans Westerbeek – who is leading research on footballs for the AFL – said a survey of players, umpires, administrators and ball manufacturers raised interesting questions.

On the critical performance aspects of the Australian football there was general agreement balls that were “kicked in” performed better than balls that were brand new, he said.

But when it came to colour, opinions differed.

“Most elite players and umpires preferred the yellow ball – saying they performed better – even when manufacturers unequivocally argue there is no difference whatsoever between yellow and red balls apart from colour,” Professor Westerbeek said.

“This is an intriguing finding as objectively there should be no difference in performance at all.”

Meanwhile, most interviewees preferred to play with Sherrins – which have dominated the market over the game’s 130-year history – even when many also accepted there may be no great difference in performance between brands.

Almost all interviewees commented on how inconsistent the shape and size of AFL match balls is.

“Even the six balls selected for every AFL match varied considerably in terms of size and shape,” he said.

The second phase of the research project will take a large group of elite AFL players to the biomechanics laboratory at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living at Victoria University.

“Non-branded balls from different manufacturers will be used to conduct a range of objective and subjective ball performance tests,” Professor Westerbeek said.

“The outcomes are expected to be available early 2013, and will be used to advise the AFL on tightening manufacturing specifications, and to consider a range of possible improvements and innovations.”

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