On any given Sunday, you’ll find fields across Australia packed with kids playing their sport of choice.
For Isabell Dewsbury, it’s Australian Rules Football, where she plays on the first-ever all-girls under 12 side at Darwin club St Mary’s.
Come game day, she has the same palpable excitement.
“I love going down there and playing … being able to play a contact sport and being able to express our feelings,” she said
Despite the joys of playing footy, she’s had to grapple with the issue of both player and spectator abuse.
“It feels very uncomfortable when people are trying to criticise you or say something mean,” she said.
Now, the local competition organiser, the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL), is taking action.
A new ‘Environment Point’ system will award competition points in under 12’s, 14’s and 16’s based on whether a team provides a safe environment for the children playing.
Not only will teams get four points for winning the game, but another four points will be on offer for sides that encourage fair play.
Some of the violations stopping a team receiving E-points are for abuse towards umpires, opposition players, yellow and red cards, reportable offences and code of conduct breaches.
Rules not just a hit with players
Sam Cunningham, the umpiring development coordinator for the NTFL, said the changes would have a very real impact.
“Something like E-points will help [umpire retention] even further,” he said.
Mr Cunningham said he still found it surprising spectators were willing to be abusive and aggressive towards umpires, some of which were as young as 12.
“We don’t like spectators and coaches giving our umpires a spray,” he said.
“This why the rules are being introduced to make sure these things aren’t happening.”
In a statement, the NTFL said the model had already worked well in New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania.
The league said it hoped the rules would have the same effect in the Northern Territory.