Local sporting group calls for respect for umpires with new program launched

Sunshine Coast Netball Association, has launched its Respect 4 Umpires (R4U) initiative

The Sunshine Coast’s largest sporting organisation, Sunshine Coast Netball Association, has launched its Respect 4 Umpires (R4U) initiative following a verbal abuse incident that caught the public’s attention last year.

With 190 umpires in their association aged from 10 and up, the Sunshine Coast Netball Association felt compelled to do something about the unwarranted abuse by players, parents, and coaches, and they’ve gained the support of many local businesses and high-profile personalities including Sunshine Coast Lightning players.

Club spokesperson and key driver of the R4U initiative, Debbie Battaglini explained that the incident in June 2023 shone a big spotlight on the disrespect and abuse directed towards umpires, but unfortunately, it was not a stand-alone incident which led the association to develop their R4U initiative.

“Sadly, it’s something that happens all too often across many sporting codes and clubs with umpires being abused and disrespected and it’s just not on. We will not stand by and let this continue to happen so we created the Respect 4 Umpires initiative to change the behaviour of spectators, players and coaches towards umpires.

“Everyone deserves respect, and we’ll make sure the umpires get it. SCNA hosts 10,000 games of netball a year with over 60,000 spectators and every single one of those games needs an umpire. We are working hard to ensure every umpire, as well as members and guests of our club, feels safe and respected here, and we won’t tolerate anyone who doesn’t follow the values and rules of our association,” explained Ms Battaglini.

Belinda Reynolds, Head Coach of Sunshine Coast Lightning said respect is at the core of their game.

“I think we have such great role models in our sport because we are so respected in the community and that is the way we play the game, we respect our opposition, we respect our officials, umpires included,” explained Ms Reynolds.

SCNA Umpire Convenor Gabby Parker recently attended the Coaches and Umpires Conference run by Netball Queensland where umpire disrespect was a hot topic but without a solution.

“There’s been a lot of talk about this issue, but until our R4U initiative, the answer has always been to just build the resilience of umpires. It’s always been a given that disrespect comes with the territory but it shouldn’t be. Isn’t it time we all did better?” shared Ms Parker.

The R4U initiative is a combination of awareness, education and on-the-ground support in the form of dedicated welfare officers in white hi-vis watching over the games.

“Umpires will be given white flags and they can raise them if they feel they are being disrespected. Welfare officers will then come to the aid of the umpires waving a white flag and will diffuse the situation and go through the complaints and warning process if required,” explained Ms Parker.

“We’ve also created a compelling video that shows the real story of a young umpire being disrespected and the impact that had on her. I think people can get swept up in the competition, forgetting that umpires are people with feelings too and so we hope that through this video and our educational resources, we can change perceptions and behaviour,” Ms Parker added.

Rhythm Culture team-building exercise

As part of the launch event, the SCNA arranged for a team-building exercise with Rhythm Culture that symbolised a strengthening of the netball village by rolling out the Respect 4 Umpires initiative and all moving forward to the beat of the same drum.

The R4U initiative rolled out at the SCNA on the 4th of March and will continue throughout the netball season.

“It started here at SCNA in March but we hope to see our program roll out across all clubs and even all sporting codes because we believe everyone deserves respect and we’ve developed a clear way to remind and enforce respectful behaviour,” explained Ms Battaglini.

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