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Initiative’s goal is respect for umpires

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Initiative’s goal is respect for umpires

A local sporting body has taken a stand against abuse of an essential component of the game before it unfairly nets more victims.

One of the Sunshine Coast’s largest sporting organisations is launching a Respect 4 Umpires (R4U) initiative following a verbal-abuse incident that caught the public’s attention last year.

With 190 umpires aged from 10 doing their duty, the Sunshine Coast Netball Association (SCNA) felt compelled to do something about the unwarranted abuse by players, parents and coaches.

The idea has since gained the support of many local businesses and high-profile personalities, including Sunshine Coast Lightning players. Debbie Battaglini, club spokesperson and the key driver of the R4U initiative, says the incident in June 2023 shone a spotlight on the disrespect and abuse directed towards umpires.

However, she says it was not a stand-alone incident, leading the association to develop the 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,” Ms Battaglini says.

“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.”

SCNA umpire convenor Gabby Parker says umpire disrespect has long been a hot topic 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,” she says.

“It’s always been a given that disrespect comes with the territory but it shouldn’t be.”

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

“Umpires will be given white flags and they can raise them if they feel they are being disrespected,” Ms Parker says.

“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.

“People can get swept up in the competition, forgetting that umpires are people with feelings, too.”

Launching on May 4, the R4U initiative will continue throughout the netball season.

“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,” Ms Battaglini says.

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