UMPIRE abuse is threatening the future of grassroots football leagues.
It is as blatant and simple as decorated 350-game AFL umpire Shaun Ryan told media.
What happened down in a Geelong practice match last weekend should feel like a kick in the guts for us up in Ballarat.
Alleged abuse emanating from Ballarat Football League club Melton South towards a young female Geelong umpire, now under police investigation, is not okay. Almost all of us, males and female, know this.
Ballarat Football League has long been a leader in changing the grassroots culture of the game, particularly on inclusion and gender equality. This is a fact we should be proud about and why it should hurt when any action suggests otherwise.
It is a really harsh reminder we can always do better.
Take it from a girl who spent her early childhood hanging out about the Geelong Football Umpires League headquarters at Kardinia Park - it is a rude awakening to learn the cool boss-chicks with the whistles you used to cheer were a rare exception.
Geelong Cats captains Meghan McDonald and Joel Selwood have each issued messages of support for the young female umpire from last weekend's game. So did AFLW star Tayla Harris - who made headlines with inappropriate comments that ensure after a power kicking photo.
There are ingrained cultural issues in our beloved football code dating back more than a century that are beyond neanderthal-like. Let alone the heated spotlight on gender respect in Australia right now.
To be clear, media reports, including those in The Courier, have not identified whether the Panther hurling alleged abuse at the umpire was male or female.
We all have a responsibility to make the game safer and, in an undoubtedly male-dominated space, men must stand up tall on such issues.
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St Patrick's College captain Darcy Williams put it best in a powerful call to arms on fellow senior students at his school this week.
"For we are the ones, more often than not, instigating the problem," Williams said.
"We are the ones being portrayed in the media as arrogant and rude. As savage. As a group of boys with a mob mentality, and no doubt there is some truth in this. I know this is not all boys or men, but all boys and men have a role in making society safer for women."
Ballarat Football League club Redan made a pioneering step to be explicit females were welcome to apply for a senior football coaching role. While the Lions did not quite find the right fit - and far from wanting to head down the token aisle - they have gone back to the drawing board to explore apprentice-style pathways to engage, empower and entice more females within their ranks.
This sets an important tone in opening doors.
Remember it was just in November that North Melbourne proved too coward to give former Australian Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander an interview for the Kangaroos' senior coaching role. Alexander had an 81 per cent winning rate at the helm of one of our nation's most decorated, feared international outfits - that alone should have commanded an audience at the least at Arden Street.
Interestingly at Central Highlands club Rokewood-Corindhap, Alexander made a joint address to Grasshoppers' netballers and footballers last Friday night.
At the helm of the 'Hoppers senior football team is triple Victorian Football League premiership captain Shaune Moloney and Brad Macgowan, who has VFL coaching experience, and yet their playing group still tapped into Alexander's knowledge for the pre-season camp.
Sure, this was a different circumstance but undoubtedly a sign of both respect and good culture.
Imagine then, if the Avoca-based Alexander jumped in the coaches' box for one of our football games.
The fact our football-netball clubs are a microcosm of our communities is not new. The fact our sporting clubs can play an integral role in creating community change - and should own a responsibility to do so - is not new.
The incident involving a young, female umpire in a football practice match is a harsh reminder we all can do better and should demand better in our football leagues.
What kind of future do we want in our grassroots game?
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