Q: Please tell us a little about yourself, your occupation, and what a day at work looks like for you?
A: I am married with three children, aged ten, nine and six, living in the Adelaide Hills. I am one of the AFL listed Boundary Umpires based in South Australia. This involves weekly training and a match on most weekends during the season, typically in Adelaide but occasionally interstate as well. On match day I arrive at the ground two hours before the game to warm up and prepare. The matches are physically demanding, but being part of the match is a rewarding experience every time. During the week, I also work as a primary school teacher.

Q: Before working in your field, what preconceived ideas did you have surrounding bullying?
A: Growing up, I watched football a lot, played through primary school and started boundary umpiring in high school. I have been fortunate enough in my life never to have been personally targeted by bullies, nor was bullying something that I had noticed occurring during my playing or local umpiring experiences. I had seen some bullying take place at high school in the form of groups of students targeting individuals, but there was always an element of the perpetrators trying to hide their actions from people who they perceived as having the power to stop them so that they could avoid consequences. The things that I had seen showed me that it was something that had the potential to damage people.

Q: How have your thoughts changed?
A: Being involved in the AFL has opened my eyes to the prevalence of umpire abuse and it must stop. There are those supporters who would rather blame the official for a perceived unfair call than blame their own team for poor performance. The correlation between the home team being behind or losing and the umpires being booed is so frequent and predictable that it actually makes me laugh when it happens sometimes.

Statistically, AFL umpires are incredibly accurate decision makers and executors of skills, but a fan sitting 100 metres away from the ball not only can believe that they have a better understanding of the adjudication of the most complicated sport in the world than someone who has been doing their job at a consistently high level for years, even decades, but also believes they have the prerogative to hurl the vilest of insults and belittlements at the people wearing green on the basis of their chosen career path. In no other context would this behaviour ever be considered acceptable, but attending a sporting event in Australia seems to give some people the impression that they can treat the officials in whatever way they see fit.

For me, I am able to depersonalise these words and actions and this is not something that my mind dwells on. However, there is no denying that there have been times where I’ve experienced an anxious physical response when walking off the field surrounded by people speaking and acting aggressively. At AFL level, we are fortunate to have security personnel around at all times and therefore are in no physical danger. However, officials at the community level have no such protection, and the stories of officials being intimidated, abused, and ultimately giving the job away altogether are far too common. I see people and players complaining (often incorrectly) about umpiring decisions all the way down to watching my own children play in the Under 9s and 10s. Numbers of officials is a problem in all sports, and this is not something that will change while too many in our society continue to treat officials as a lower class of person. We are people too, and just as deserving of human dignity as anyone else.

The AFL recently launched a campaign highlighting the importance of respect for umpires, which emphasises that there is no place for abuse in our game. It is pleasing to see efforts being made to stamp out abuse and there are also increasingly better support and pathway systems in place for umpires, which is great for those already in the system and prospective umpires too. We need more umpires at all levels but behaviour must change so that umpires are shown the respect they deserve.

Q: In your opinion, what connects schoolyard bullying to adulthood? What are the consequences to that connection?
A: Children mimic behaviour, particularly the behaviour of those they look up to. Habits formed in childhood lay the foundation for lifelong patterns of behaviour. Providing children with positive behavioural role models gives them the best chance to learn to treat people respectfully throughout their lives. Seeing role models engaging in bullying behaviour, and then engaging in that behaviour themselves, can have the consequence of that behaviour continuing into adulthood, resulting in negative social contributions.

Q: What would you say to your younger self if she was being bullied?
A: As an adult, my strongest piece of advice would be to seek help from trusted people. Bullies are seeking power by taking away the power of other people and isolating them, so asking for help and support ensures that you avoid isolation and maintain control.


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