Local sporting group launches new program calling for more respect for umpires

Local sport can bring out the very best, and the very worst in behaviour, and those extremes can be seen across the board, from players, to the coaching staff, and among spectators. One local sporting group is taking action to demand more respect for umpires in their sport.

Sunshine Coast Netball Association is the region’s largest sporting organisation, with 190 umpires in their fold, from ages 10 and upwards. Following a verbal abuse incident that drew public attention last year, the SCNA has launched a new initiative, Respect 4 Umpires (R4U).

How important is it that umpires and officials be treated with respect?

Referees and umpires play a crucial part in managing fair play and proper sportsmanship. From grassroots local sports to international level events, officials such as umpires are critical for game-play to run smoothly and for both rules and safety regulations to be upheld appropriately.

After umpires were being subjected to unwarranted abuse by players, coaches, and parents on the sidelines, the Sunshine Coast Netball Association felt it was time to take a stand against this sort of behaviour and take steps to offer more protection to their (often very young) umpires. Many local businesses and some high-profile personalities, including some Sunshine Coast Lightning players, have rallied around the SCNA to show their support for the R4U program.

Key driver of R4U and SCNA spokesperson, Debbie Battaglini said, “Sadly, it’s something that happens all too often across many sporting codes and clubs with umpires being abused and disrespected and it’s just not on. We will not stand by and let this continue to happen so we created the Respect 4 Umpires initiative to change the behaviour of spectators, players, and coaches towards umpires.”

While an incident in June 2023 was the catalyst for change, unfortunately, the negative behaviour being shown towards umpires was not an isolated occurrence.

“Everyone deserves respect, and we’ll make sure the umpires get it. SCNA hosts 10,000 games of netball each year with over 60,000 spectators and every single one of those games needs an umpire. We are working hard to ensure every umpire, as well as members and guests of our club, feels safe and respected here, and we won’t tolerate anyone who doesn’t follow the values and rules of our association,” explained Ms Battaglini.

Respect for umpires is everyone's responsibility

The Head Coach of Sunshine Coast Lightning, Belinda Reynolds, stated that respect is at the core of their game. “I think we have such great role models in our sport because we are so respected in the community and that is the way we play the game, we respect our opposition, we respect our officials, umpires included.”

The need for greater respect for umpires and officials within community sports events has been flagged by several different sporting codes. “Officials and umpires make mistakes…as do players and coaches. Being an umpire or official is a tough and often thankless job”, said David Pryles, CEO of Hockey Australia said, “Regardless of decisions made, whether right or wrong, there is no excuse or justification for verbally abusing or threatening officials and umpires. Next time you think about criticising an umpiring decision or witness someone hurling verbal abuse from over the fence, choose respect instead of criticism and ridicule.”

Netball Queensland recently held a Coaches and Umpires Conference, where umpire disrespect was hotly discussed, but without a solution. SCNA Umpire Convenor, Gabby Parker was in attendance. “There’s been a lot of talk about this issue, but until our R4U initiative, the answer has always been to just build the resilience of umpires. It’s always been a given that disrespect comes with the territory but it shouldn’t be. Isn’t it time we all did better?” shared Ms Parker.

What does the Respect 4 Umpires initiative involve?

R4U is made up of a combination of education and awareness initiatives as well as on-ground support through dedicated welfare officers donning white hi-vis vests in attendance at games. “Umpires will be given white flags and they can raise them if they feel they are being disrespected. Welfare officers will then come to the aid of the umpires waving a white flag and will diffuse the situation and go through the complaints and warning process if required,” explained Ms Parker.

SCNA has also released a compelling video that shows the real story of a young umpire being disrespected and the impact that had on her. “I think people can get swept up in the competition,
forgetting that umpires are people with feelings too and so we hope that through this video and
our educational resources, we can change perceptions and behaviour,” Ms Parker added.

respect for umpires

The R4U initiative will roll out at the SCNA from the 4th of March and will continue throughout the netball season. “It’s starting here at SCNA this March but we hope to see our program roll out across all clubs and even all sporting codes because we believe everyone deserves respect and we’ve developed a clear way to remind and enforce respectful behaviour,” explained Ms Battaglini.

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