Australia

Greene’s three-match suspension for bullying umpire lands a blow for rare breed carrying the whistle

Toby Greene can consider himself lucky to have been suspended for only three matches, even though it means he won’t play again this AFL season.

It is tempting to say his “disrespectful, demonstrative and aggressive” bullying of umpire Matt Stevic was a childish tantrum, but even kids know better than to bump an ump.

It’s disappointing we won’t see Greene in another final this year because usually he’s so good to watch.

The stakes in this case, however, were always higher than one Giant.

Anyone involved in community-level football will tell you Australian rules is experiencing an umpire shortage.

COVID has been a factor.

In Victoria, the 2020 grassroots season was abandoned; this year, some finals series are still up in the air, although several competitions have already been cancelled.

Perhaps those who were umpiring to make a few bucks got sick of the uncertainty, or maybe they found they enjoyed not being criticised on Saturday afternoons.

Whatever the reason, there is a growing gap between “registered umpires” and “required umpires”.

As a result, those who take up the whistle are being asked to do multiple games every weekend.

The expansion of girls’ and women’s football has also stretched demand.

We need more umpires more than ever.

I’m involved with several teams in a region overseen by AFL South-East, where administrators say “active umpire numbers” are down 15 per cent.

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Shortage of umpires threatens local football competition

In my lifetime in football, I’ve never seen it so dire.

Earlier this season, plenty of junior and some senior reserve grade games had no umpires at all, despite the best efforts of volunteer organisers from Southern Umpires Association (SUA).

Two of my sons are umpires with SUA; they do it for pocket money, enjoying the positive team environment created by their experienced mentors.

But there is always the abuse from sooks in the outer, and it makes sense that dropout rates are highest among umpires after just one season on the job.

Themes are similar in country leagues further away from the city.

Most firsts umpires are middle-aged. Where is the next generation?

Greene’s intimidation of Stevic was a spectacular example of umpire disdain, but there were others on the weekend.

The following day in Tassie we saw something more subtle when dynamic Western Bulldog Cody Weightman was the match winner against Essendon, slotting four goals from free kicks.

Weightman should’ve been universally celebrated for dominating an elimination final at just 20 years old.

Instead, he was accused by some pundits and barrackers of milking frees. Never mind that he earned every kick by being in the right spots, causing Essendon players to panic in the wet.

With a predictable online shirtfront, at least one post-match headline suggested the umpiring had “killed the game”.

The margin was 49 points. (The Dons were collectively unable to kick more goals than the boy from Beaconsfield.)

Umpire bashing is a boorish tradition of our beloved code.

It has been tolerated to a point.

The tribunal’s banishment of Greene for 2021 was necessary to stand up for trusted officials.

It might make us all think a bit more about the way we treat umpires in our moments of frustration, for the recruitment and retention of these men and woman have never been more critical.


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