As the AFL tackles dissent a grassroots country football league in Western Australia says it is seeing a growing number of umpires walking away from the game because of abuse.
The AFL has a nationwide umpire shortage and regional competitions are struggling too
Dissent seen at the top has had a flow-on affect at a community level, the Great Northern Football League says
The Geraldton league has had umpires leave the club due to on-field abuse
The Geraldton-based Great Northern Football League (GNFL) has seven clubs launching into the 2022 season – its 61st – but it is grappling a severe umpire shortage.
The strong Mid-West league has produced numerous AFL footballers, including Kevin Worthington, Jim Sewell, Andrew Lockyer, Daniel Chick, Paul Hasleby and Harry Taylor, as well as active players Josh Kennedy, Patrick Ryder and Liam Ryan.
In recent years the league was able to supply the 30-plus field umpires required to cover all four senior games, colts, reserves, league, and women’s league at the three fixtures.
But this year the GNFL only has 12 field umpires available and will be able to cover only the men’s senior league games.
Clubs are being requested to supply their own umpires for the remainder.
Long-time GNFL umpire and administrator Colin Cox said a lot of footballers used to stay involved with the club once they finished playing, but that was happening less now.
“Our average age, at the moment, is 52 for our umpiring panel,” he said.
Umpire abuse ‘the main reason’
Mr Cox said the club had lost four promising young umpires since last season, mainly because of players disputing decisions and abusing umpires.
“We do get a lot of abuse and that’s the main reason I think — they look at it on the TV and they watch local games and think, ‘I do not want to do that’,” he said.
“Because of the abuse you just get to the point where enough is enough and they just walk away from the game.
“It just needs to stop.”
Mr Cox’s comments follow former AFL umpires voicing their support for the league’s crackdown on dissent, arguing that players seek to gain an advantage by complaining and gesturing about decisions.
The AFL has reminded clubs that dissent will not be tolerated and says players will be penalised for visibly expressing frustration.
The AFL’s football operation manager Brad Scott said the competition needed to take a leading role in setting the right example.