Weekend sport— it is an ageold New Zealand tradition but is under threat from an increase in poor sideline behaviour and the abuse of umpires and referees.
Yelling at the ref from the sidelines is not a new phenomenon, but Central Otago and Wanaka netball organisers say abuse at a grassroots level is on the rise.
Central Otago Netball Centre (CONC) umpire co-ordinator Elaisa Chapman understands the impact abuse directed from the sidelines can have — she has been involved in netball as a player and umpire for more than 20 years and now oversees the development of umpires at the Central Otago centre.
While the issue was not new, it had increased in the past year and was affecting recruitment and development of netball umpires.
Last month, she cautioned a team to keep its spectators in line or she was going to pull the umpires off the court and stop the game.
‘‘That was a first,’’ she said.
‘‘I just don’t understand why people don’t get it — no umpire, no game.’’
CONC runs an umpire development programme for year 7 and 8 pupils to prepare them to start umpiring games when they reach year 9. Each team is required to provide two umpires weekly.
The centre provides ongoing training and support as umpires gain experience and move on to higher levels.
It was often — but not always— these younger umpires who were on the receiving end of the abuse, Mrs Chapman said.
Swearing and yelling at the umpire, telling them what calls should have been made and generally threatening behaviour were issues from both parents and players. It all amounted to bullying. The abuse affected the umpires personally and had further implications for the sport, as umpire recruitment was under threat.
‘‘It’s just really hard when you’re trying to recruit umpires and many of them are getting abused.
‘‘A lot of people don’t want to [umpire] — it’s that stigma that they will get abused; it’s almost preempting it.’’
While the behaviour came from only a small portion of those at the courts, it affected everybody and reflected poorly on the sport as a whole.
‘‘There’s so many respectful players and spectators out there, it’s just the minority . . . but causes a big impact.’’
The issue was not limited solely to netball. Mrs Chapman said she stopped refereeing basketball as a result of abuse.
‘‘I don’t think it’s just netball. I think it’s across the board,’’ she said.
In Wanaka, Netball Upper Clutha was experiencing the same problem.
Umpire co-ordinator Christine Humphries said umpire abuse was ‘‘rife’’ and the organisation had seen a noticeable increase in poor sideline behaviour in the past 18 months.
It was not limited to spectators — off-court players were also involved.
Mrs Humphries was unsure as to the reason for the rise. Covid-19 was initially believed to be a factor last year as people were under pressure, but the behaviour had continued to escalate this year.
Netball Upper Clutha required each team to provide umpires and started developing umpires at year 7 and 8 level, with courtside support from the netball executive.
As in Central Otago, junior umpires received the bulk of the abuse in Wanaka.
‘‘When we have parents swearing at umpires — what are we teaching our kids if we are talking like that to children?’’ Mrs Humphries said.
The netball executive regularly cautioned spectators at games and those spoken to were aware the next step was to speak to coaches, she said.
Umpires were all volunteers but the abuse was wearing thin for many, making it harder to recruit and keep umpires.
‘‘We all give up our time away from family life, to umpire games and we get abused.’’
‘‘We do it because we love netball but if this continues. . .’’
If people on the sidelines thought they knew better they should pick up a whistle and step up, Mrs Humphries said.
Eighteen-year-old Neleah Manderson has been umpiring in both Alexandra and Wanaka for four years.
Unlike many others, Neleah no longer plays netball, solely umpiring.
She was encouraged into umpiring as a player and supported by her coach and the CONC to gain her umpire qualifications.
The year 13 Dunstan High School pupil is no stranger to the abuse from the sidelines.
Courtside parents, older high school pupils and adult players and coaches all had taken a swipe at her at some stage regarding calls made during games.
When the final whistle blew, players left the court but the effects of abuse from the sidelines remained long after the game finished, Neleah said.
‘‘It undermines your self esteem and [you] wonder if it’s something you want to be doing . . .it’s quite hard sometimes,’’ she said.
‘‘It can put a dampener on it, if you have had a game where you’ve [been abused] it can make you not want to come back.’’
Umpiring her peer group was another challenge, especially knowing she would see them the next day.
‘‘It think it’s always been prevalent in any sport but in netball, it’s been really bad,’’ Neleah said.
‘‘With competitiveness comes a lot more intensity and a lot more aggression.’’
However, the candour from netball was not necessarily forthcoming from other codes.
The Central Otago Hockey Association says it is not aware of umpire and referee abuse being an issue.
An Otago Rugby Football Union representative did not deny it was an issue and was unaware of any spectators having to be removed from sidelines this season, but was unable to give more details until next week.
Football South has not responded to questions from The News.