ABUSE is the ugliest part of our native game.
Football has rapidly evolved from the elite ranks to the grassroots game – none more so than in the past couple of seasons – and yet this culture of bullying, intimidation and harassment seems to stick around.
Sport is a great microcosm for the community and what it keeps reflecting back to us is not nice.
Multi-pronged calls for a crackdown in Ballarat female football ranks reared up in The Courier this week but the problem stretches far greater than the women’s game, and not just in Australian Rules.
This is a reminder how much we need to show more respect for each other.
Sport is all about pushing the boundaries and testing the limits, this is largely what makes the real-life drama so enthralling and evokes so much passion. But there is a fine line that needs to be highlighted and boldened between white-line fever and competitiveness.
White-line fever is false sense of self-importance and an unacceptable excuse for being a jerk. We see it on our roads and we see it in the pats on the back we give each other for putting down or unleashing on professionals like teachers and healthcare professionals because we think we know better.
Football umpires have long been in the firing line and attitudes towards whistleblowers has dramatically changed the past decade. There is still a long way to go.
An unprecedented boom in player numbers, sparked by the hungry demands for fast-growing female ranks, means we need more umpires. And good umpires.
This puts a strain on officials across all grades in the grassroots game.
We want to capitalise on this growth and to do that, we need to set the right tone to keeping people in the game. Umpires are just a part of this. Setting the right tone also involves good on-field conduct, high club standards off the field and a willingness for all to listen and learn – this goes not just for new players to the game, but older players and arm-chair heroes who think they know better.
What many fans, and players even, do not see is the hours of education, assessment and reviews football umpires undertake each week. They know they do not always get it right – they have their own coaches helping to sharpen their games – but it takes guts to have a crack at umpiring one of the world’s fastest, complex sports.
Officials need to show a zero tolerance approach to abuse on and off the field, both directed at them or at other players.
But we all need to rethink what is acceptable talk in our game. This goes right down to how we talk about our game’s highest levels – yes, anyone who brought up the outdated call to redefine the Brownlow Medal for best player after Nat Fyfe’s scrubbing this week, I AM talking to you.
Our society is calling for more people to get active and try new sports amid a heavy health epidemic, and all the chronic issues that come with this. Football, particularly with increasing women’s participation, has a real chance be a strong leader in our community.
We need to be more humble. Anything else should have no place in our game.