There always seems to be some topic causing ructions amongst fans and on the sports commentary talking head circuit. Everyone seems to have something to say about it, their own two cents to chuck in, so why shouldn’t I have my say?
The topic de jour appears to be a recent move by the AFL to crack down on player dissent towards umpires. And, like any new initiative, officials are still finding their way. There have been a few very heavy-handed examples. Such as a player has looked at the wrong quadrant of the sky while clicking their teeth and been hit with a penalty. Despite the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth by the usual cohort of superannuated players, I welcome it.
It's a Fair Cop
At the level of cricket I play, there are generally no paid umpires, and each team has provide a set. This means that while your team is batting, you are umpiring, and the unspoken agreement is that you will be fair and impartial, and call it as you see it—without fear or favour. This is the ideal, but the reality is that you have some absolute howlers, both through people favouring their team and through sheer lack of knowledge of the rules.
It is a thankless job, because no matter how hard you try some point during the day someone is going to be unhappy with you. It will either be your own team thinking that you stuffed a decision up, or the other team thinking that you are biased. It is not fun. Even if you don’t intend to, you are bound to get something wrong. There is the fact that there are no instant replays and that you are asking the average person to make split second decision—it is a recipe for confusion.
Worth Their Weight
Once I started to play in better resourced competitions, and received the benefit of paid umpires, I realised how much stress it took away from our team and the other players. Not having to find someone who knew the rules well enough to umpire, and being able to put the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders was such an incredible relief.
But, I realised that even paid umpires are just human being like the rest of us. Just as able to make mistakes, just as fallible, and with a real set of feelings. Like player umpires, they always made someone unhappy and copped criticism for it. The difference being that half their critics didn't have to go to training with them the next week and didn't have that holding them back. And, they were doing this, for hours on end, for a hundred bucks or so!
Nurture Against Our Nature
Umpiring is such a thankless task for so small a reward. No wonder it is hard to find people willing to step up. There is none of the glory that comes from playing and excelling—outside of someone like Dickie Bird, who knows an umpire’s name? But I bet you can rattle off a hundred players— no glory, just the grind of doing. It is an absolutely vital role, playing without umpires has shown me this, if nothing else.
When you look at the abuse they cop (and a recent report shows that female umpires have it even worse, received sexual harassment and abuse) it is clear that we need to do everything we can to ensure that the role of umpires is valued and upheld the way it should be. And that we do everything we can to make it as painless and easy as possible. If the price we pay is a few extra 50 metre penalties, then it is a price worth paying.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine,War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html