AFL Umpires coach Hayden Kennedy has confirmed umpires have been told to pay a free kick for every punch on field, regardless of the force.
The red card debate came back into the fold last year after Andrew Gaff struck Andrew Brayshaw, but the AFL has instead opted to penalise the niggling punches that lead to violence.
Stomach punches are likely to cause debate, as players will be fined under MRO misconduct or suspended if the force is sufficient.
Kennedy acknowledges this will be difficult to adjudicate, but says his umpires are just following instructions.
“Those punches will still be dealt with by the MRO but we will be paying free kicks for strikes even though the force is in the lower end,” the AFL Umpires coach told the Herald Sun.
“That is the instruction this year, if we see any player using a fist in a striking motion.
“That is going to be difficult at times because a player might turn his back on us or an umpire now be sure if a fist is used, but instruction is not to accept a strike at all.”
With low-level punches continuing despite a crackdown by MRO boss Michael Christian, AFL football boss Steve Hocking decided to take a zero tolerance stand in the 2019 season.
This instruction comes after nine new rules were added to the game this year.
Umpires have been out to 175 training sessions over the summer to help teams prepare for upcoming practice matches.