You may not agree with what I’m about to say, but bear with me.
It’s time to give umpires a break.
Unless you’ve pulled on the whites (or greens, reds, blues, striped black and white etc.), you have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to umpire sport. I’ve done the breakdown for a game of netball, and the (admittedly slightly dodgy) stats are terrifying.
A standard game of netball is 60 minutes. In a game of netball, the ball has to be passed at least every three seconds. This results in the ball being passed, at an absolute minimum, 1,200 times a match. Every time a player catches the ball, an umpire has to check seven things involving the player with the ball and their opponent (footwork, contact, how they got the ball, obstruction, offside etc.).
Almost simultaneously, the umpire has to look down the court and check other players are in their correct areas and are not blocking each other in their attempts to move. This could involve scanning 10 different players, while keeping one eye on the player with the ball and their opponent.
So that’s seven things involving the player with the ball, plus potentially another 10 players to watch, each with three actions involved (contact, obstruction and offside). That’s 38 different actions to watch for per pass, including the held ball rule. 38 times 1,200 passes equals 45,600 decisions umpires make per match. Even if that figure is split between the two umpires, that’s still 22,800 decisions each.
22,800 decisions a match! And that’s assuming players take the maximum three seconds to pass the ball. The real figure is probably much higher.
So it may be time to lay off on the umpire abuse. Each sport has its own difficulties. I can’t imagine trying to decide the precise moment when a player has held the ball in footy, and I’ll never understand the offside rule in soccer. Trying to ascertain the difference between a charge and a foul in basketball must be near impossible sometimes. And it bewilders me how cricket umpires can call an LBW so accurately (most of the time), or how tennis linesmen can pick balls up going over 100km/hr.
This plea will probably fall on ears deafened by their own booing over the years, and heaven forbid I tell Australians what to do and take away our sacred right to boo at sporting events (thanks Warnie for enlightening me), but give umpires a chance. I know myself I’m not one of the easiest players to umpire, as I obviously know every single rule (as does every player I’ve ever umpired). And god knows I’m not here to defend lazy umpires, one of my pet hates. But if a 15-year-old is umpiring grown women, and you offer them a pair of glasses, accuse them of bias or tell them they’ve made the worst decision you’ve ever seen, it’s probably time to take stock of what you’re actually doing.
People will say this comes with the territory of umpiring, and that we should just suck it up. I’m well aware other umpires from other sports have it much worse off than netball, which is comparatively genteel sometimes (although I did have to break up something verging on a brawl on the weekend).
But maybe we shouldn’t have to suck it up.
Maybe you, the spectator, or you, the player, has to suck it up. When a decision doesn’t go your way, act like an adult and move on. Because chances are the next dodgy decision (out of 22,800 may I remind you) may just go your way. A commentator at the Hawthorn vs Richmond match, the first after a week of Adam Goodes discussion, remarked, “And booing has returned to the MCG tonight, but it’s okay because it’s just at the umpires.”
Since when was it okay to boo human beings doing their job? Would you like it if I turned up to the house you were building, and spent an hour criticising everything you were doing, even though I clearly had absolutely no idea about the technique or skill involved? Or leant over your shoulder every few lines and offered you a pair of glasses while you wrote a business proposal, despite never having studied business in my life? [There’s an excellent Seinfeld episode in which Jerry does this to a heckler. Comedy gold. – Ed]
Of course people are passionate about their sport. I’m passionate about my sport, and groan along with 50,000 other people when a decision doesn’t go Richmond’s way at the footy. But do I boo umpires? Never. Because I know what it feels like, and I have a vague idea at the immense difficulty involved (although not to the same elite level of course). People see umpiring decisions through one eye – the eye of their team. Maybe it’s time to open that other eye a fraction and see things a smidgen more objectively.
Especially when it comes to abusing umpires at club level, who are mostly teenagers trying their absolute heart out, and are absolutely terrified by the vitriol coming towards them both on and off the court/field. It’s time to draw the line, suck it up, and be an adult.
You may not agree with the decision, but you should respect it.
And if you’re a parent going absolutely nuts at the umpires during your 23-year-old daughter’s club level, section 3 semi-final, it’s probably time to stop playing your sport vicariously through her, and grow up.
NEXT: Murray Bird re-connects with Rugby League at the grassroots level with a trip to Langlands Park: George Lovejoy: “Rugby League? The greatest game of all…”
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