Not in the spirit of the game

June 28, 2017

Umpires should not have to put up with violence being dished out by people on the sidelines. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

I was shocked and appalled to hear news from my home state Tasmania last weekend about the alleged assault of a State League seniors Aussie Rules football umpire, off-field and hours after a match.

Just days later, also in Tasmania, reports emerged of an under-14s player allegedly being struck by the parent of an opposition player after the game.

But let’s not sell this problem short — these issues are not unique to Tasmania.

The same weekend, a scuffle at a junior footy game in Melbourne resulted in former North Melbourne champion Glenn Archer being charged with unlawful assault.

Sadly, ugly incidents at sporting matches are not all that uncommon. It is a cultural problem.

Some think it is perfectly acceptable to yell at umpires and apparently, a much smaller minority believe it is acceptable to take it one step further and threaten and even carry out violence.

I can speak from experience as a former basketball referee of the dangers associated with this.

When you step out on any sporting arena as a referee or umpire, you must have a thick skin. If you don’t have one, or can’t develop one, the job probably isn’t for you.

There is inevitably going to be criticism come your way — on any single contentious call you make, one team will probably be happy and the other probably won’t.

This just comes with the job — it is a tough part of the gig but you cope.

It’s when the line is crossed that there is serious problems.

I copped being called almost every name possible and had no serious issues with that — you just shrug it off and move on — but when my physical wellbeing was threatened it was a different story.

During one social basketball game, a player got so angry with the way the game was going, he threatened me with physical violence, retrieved a wooden stake and had to be subdued by his teammates.

I was 14. I obviously found a way to get out of there as quickly as I could.

In another instance I was verbally abused by a basketball player in public, far away from a basketball court, simply because I was a referee.

These instances almost made me quit. I did later, but for different reasons.

When you think about junior sport, of course parents want their children to succeed, but over-zealous parents at junior sporting fixtures who hurl abuse or even worse, get physical, is really a bad look.

I acknowledge it is a small minority who do the wrong thing, but it still too many.

Parents are the biggest role models for their children and need to set the example.

Let’s remember that without umpires, their child’s sporting fixture wouldn’t go ahead.

And after all, it is JUST a game.

Cameron Whiteley is news editor at The News.

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