Blowing the whistle on umpire abuse

As part of our Stop Umpire Abuse Campaign, AFL Queensland Community Umpire Development Manager and former AFL Umpire, Nicholas Liparota, shares his thoughts on the role we all play in changing negative views around umpiring.

Preparing for the launch of the AFL Queensland Stop Umpire Abuse campaign, I found myself doing research on the topic, much of which I instinctively knew, having been involved in umpiring for over 18 years as an umpire and now, an umpiring administrator.

Sadly, umpire abuse is an issue across all sports. It seems like weekly I look on the Internet at the sports news and there is a story about someone in Australia who has verbally or physically abused an official/umpire.

So, I ask the question. Why? Why is this still occurring?

We do not accept anti-social behavior in workplaces across Australia, but when it comes to a sporting field, some people think the same standards don’t apply. Why? When the sporting field is an umpire’s workplace.

In my role as an umpiring administrator I go out weekly to observe and give feedback to umpires to allow them to get better. We have umpires at varying stages of experience and development, and just like all of us in our jobs, they don’t always get it right.

Umpires can run anywhere between 8 to 20 kilometers per game. On top of all that running they then have to make split second decisions which doesn’t just happen every now and again it happens every two seconds of the game.

So… I ask you, how many seconds do you think there are in a game of football?

An average game of a local senior football goes for 120 minutes; that’s 7,200 seconds in which an umpire needs to make a decision every second. That’s 3,600 decisions while running up to 20 kilometers per game.

On top of all that you then add the fantastic Queensland weather, which may see a winters day get up to 26 degrees.

Sounds difficult? And I haven’t even started on the players, coaches and spectators.

For the first time in four seasons umpiring numbers in Queensland have finally seen an increase. But, you can look at senior and junior football and we are still using club supplied umpires because we are around 500 short of where we need to be.

In Queensland, we have 1220 registered umpires. Out of these we have umpires who still play the game, parents of players umpiring, parents of umpires umpiring with their children, coaches umpiring, and just people who love umpiring.

One story I talk about when I present to clubs, coaches and players is about the university student who umpires on the weekend. This student spends all week studying, going to classes and sitting exams to get the best possible future, and then on the weekend they umpire junior and senior games to get some extra cash for their living expenses.

But, one weekend while studying hard all week for final exams the umpire decides to take a break from studying. While umpiring they make a call, which is correct under the Laws of the game however, the coach and the crowd believe it isn’t correct.

So, what happens next?

The coach abuses the umpire for the next three to five minutes, mocking every decision, questioning every decision, yelling for the whole ground to hear, calling the umpire a cheat, swearing and waving his finger at the umpire.  Causing the umpire to doubt himself and every decision he makes for the rest of the game.

So, after the game the umpire assesses himself so harshly that he just can’t switch off and stop thinking about the game. Now, this game happened on a Sunday. After a sleepless night, the umpire then attends his final university exam, which he is now not ready for.

The umpire sits his exam and fails his exam. Not because he was not prepared but because of what happened on the weekend.  He can’t re-sit this final exam for another 6 months and because he didn’t pass, the job he had lined up after uni now is no longer available to him. This job would help set the course of this young person’s future career. But, now because of this incident on the weekend he has had his life changed in one moment.

Is it fair? I would say no. What about you? Is it something that you want your son and/or daughter to experience?

We have seen some players step away from the game, partly because of crowd behavior and social media abuse and there has been public outcry. That’s fantastic.  We should be doing this.

But, what about the men, women, girls and boys who go out to work on a weekly basis onto our sporting fields and umpire. Do they deserve to cop the abuse from players, coaches and spectators? Why aren’t we jumping through hoops to stop this? Why?

It’s now time for all of us to work together to create a better game day environment.  If you see someone at the football abusing an umpire go to your club president, match manager or club official.

It only takes one person to create a movement.  One person who stands up to create a better game day environment. One person who can change the day for everyone involved.

Just imagine how you would feel if you had to go out and umpire.

Because, if we keep on abusing our officials we are going to run out of them. Meaning you just might need to go out and do it one day.

As I look back on my time in umpiring, I’m grateful for the opportunities it has provided to me; opportunities that I want to be available to anyone wanting to pursue AFL umpiring.

I started umpiring in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne at the age of 11 and was fortunate enough to umpire the VFL at the age of 16 (including a final series appearance before the age of 18.)

I moved to Queensland where I went on to umpire multiple State League Grand Finals, and to top it off, I was also lucky enough to umpire 85 AFL games (including a finals series).

The AFL has given me so much, and now as I coach and teach umpiring to kids and adults who have the same passion and desire as I had in my umpiring days, I want them to enjoy all our game has to offer.

No matter what your name is, where you come from or what gender you are, everyone

deserves the right to enjoy our wonderful game and that amazing feeling that comes with it as well.

Our game is great and can only get greater if we all work together.



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