Netball – the beautiful game. I truly believe that, played properly, it is an extremely skilful, tactical test of mental and physical ability. Of course if you play it like me, it’s more like watching your one-legged Granny trying to hurdle over some over-filled skips but nevertheless, I strive to be better each time I play.
Tonight’s league match was a disaster in so many ways I have neither the strength nor the lightness of typing finger to go into all the reasons why we didn’t win. Sour losing grapes aside, one of the principal reasons was simply bad umpiring.
Our league is a friendly one and all the teams appreciate that the umpires are amateurs and only get paid a pittance for turning up each week. Most are good, fair and games proceed smoothly. What I cannot condone is the league using umpires who clearly aren’t ready, confident or knowledgeable enough to do the job properly.
The FA, RFU, LTA and England Netball all bang on about respect for the umpire; about not arguing with decisions made during play; about bowing ostensibly to someone who knows best. At national level, I can appreciate that certain standards of umpiring/refereeing are rigorously maintained allowing consistency and therefore fairness to prevail. Not so at local level.
Many a local league football game has a willing supporter “run the line” checking for off-side, fouls, throw-ins etc. Netball too relies on amateur umpires; hunters turned gamekeepers if you will. Decisions and interpretation are a lottery. Some of the ref or linesman calls made in haste or because of a fundamental lack of understanding are shocking.
What I cannot stand most of all is losing goals or points in a game to poor decision-making by the ref. It irritates me beyond belief. If you don’t know your arse from your elbow, don’t put yourself out there. I wouldn’t know the offside rule in football if it came up and bit me on the butt but then I don’t pretend to and I certainly don’t put myself in a position of authority nor would I unless I knew exactly what I was talking about. Particularly when youngsters are involved – confidence is a fickle thing and one bad ref or decision can knock a kid back. It still knocks me at my great age and experience, so Lord knows what it does to a player just starting out. My own son was ruled to have fouled a player during a tackle in the box, leading to a penalty kicked goal to the other side. It wasn’t a foul – that’s not me saying, that’s EVERYONE who was there saying – it was a poor and too hasty refereeing decision. Son was mortified at “giving” a goal to the opponents and has never forgotten it. He’s 11 years old.
Sports governing bodies have invented a neat “get out of jail free” for quelling anyone who is aggrieved by a bad umpire. At least in netball. It’s called the “dissent” rule. Basically you cannot argue against an umpire’s decision – that would be dissent. In a game with two umpires, you cannot appeal one ref’s decision with the second umpire (even though in tonight’s match she openly admitted afterwards the other ref’s mistakes) – that would be dissent. You cannot trip over your own feet, graze your knees painfully on a concrete floor and mutter “Ooh bugger!” to no-one but yourself in the ref’s hearing – that would be dissent. Well, I have another name for it. Utter bollocks!
Why are players not permitted to question a wrong decision? “Don’t argue with the umpire” is trotted out as a lame litany in response. “The umpire is always right” is another. Well, actually, no.
In tennis, since the advent of the Hawkeye system, the LTA have allowed players to challenge some decisions – this has resulted in many an unjust ref call being overturned. And rightly so. No more “Chalk dust!” screeched by fuzzy-wigged Americans either, thank goodness.
Rugby too uses a TV monitor ref if there is any suggestion that the linesman or ref is not 100% sure what happened. The system works well and above all is fair to all. Rugby players engage with the ref on decision-making, penalties are explained and, before instantly penalising, players are guided. It makes for better players and therefore a better game.
Football and netball lag behind in acknowledging that refs and umpires are not perfect. I’m not advocating a free for all by any means – slanging matches and open hostility are not what I am talking about. But surely brief common sense dialogue should be allowed? Are we all to stand meekly by while a bad ref dictates the outcome of our games, because to argue leads to a penalty or sending off for “dissent”? Are refs and umpires so intimidated by a simple comment or query addressed to them that they instantly reach for the yellow card for protection?
Respect works both ways. So does communication. Players (and supporters) would have more respect for a ref who allows sensible dialogue in a contentious situation than for one who holds his hand up and refuses to engage. Players like me get angry when bad umpiring leads to an unfair advantage. We should be allowed to question in such situations without fear of penalty reprisal. Otherwise bad refs will continue to ref badly without recourse for the impact their actions have on a game, players will continue to be frustrated by a dictatorship of pretty poor quality and the whole idea of a ref as an objective unbiased overseer of the game rules becomes a farce.
What do you think? Should refs demand respect from players, or earn it?