Posted in Front Page News

Offensive and abusive behaviour

Last week the SMJFL Board and Administration held our mid-year President’s Forum at South Melbourne JFC new clubrooms. One of the key issues discussed at length was the occurrence of offensive and abusive behaviour in towards our players and umpires in our league from parents, supporters and club officials this season. 

The impact this is having on our players and umpires is profound with a number of our players indicating an unwillingness to play football or umpire next season. Our league administration is dealing with an increase number of reports and investigations which is having a significant impact our resources and ability to run our league in a professional and timely manner, let alone the impact within our clubs and their committees. The SMJFL will never have enough staff resources to cover approx. 185 games at 45-55 venues we play on each weekend, so we need the Clubs to effectively manage their own spectators, officials and players. 

Last month the SMJFL conducted our first Youth Players Forum where 48 players aged 14 and 15 year from 25 clubs attended a 2 hour session facilitated by Dr Sally Cockburn and our General Manager Jake McCauley. There were no parents, no other club or league officials in attendance.  The players discussed openly and frankly a number of issues that they felt were impacting on their performance and their love of the game.  The number one issue was the offensive and abusive behaviour of spectators, official’s and ugly parents towards players and umpires.

The feedback was that generally, spectator behaviour and abuse gets worse as age level increases from U14’s whilst behaviour from club officials is worse within younger age groups from U11’s.

This season has seen an increase in the number of complaints that are being investigated by our administration. Examples of officials running on the ground abusing junior players, offensive and abusive behaviour towards our administration, umpires and opposition players, parents that abuse junior umpires to the point that they break down in tears, supporters that yell abuse to players and other supporters. Is it acceptable for adults to intimidate and abuse our players and umpires?

The SMJFL employs over 500 registered umpires and has a direct responsibility as their employer for their health and well-being. It is one of the largest umpiring squads in Victoria. Do you know that over 85% of our umpires are aged between 13-17 years old. Many of them are either current players or ex-players from our league and without them we simply could not operate our league. Most of them attend training one session a week and partake in skill development just like our players do. They are committed and enjoy the role of umpiring and for some provides a clear pathway to elite umpiring as a profession. 

There is a difference between barracking for your team, crying out BALL to an umpires decision and supporting your own child, as opposed to offensive and abusive behaviour. Whilst the league and your club will continue to provide education and support, ultimately it is the individual that must be accountable for their own behaviour. 

This problem cannot be solved by the SMJFL. Whilst the league can enforce penalties, it inherently lies within the clubs to resolve and to educate their parents and supporters on what is appropriate behaviour.

The league will form a Working Sub – Committee with representatives from our clubs to develop a number of strategies that will address the issue for implementation at the start of the 2014 season. All Club Presidents endorsed this initiative and many have already volunteered to work with the league. In addition the league would like to work with the club’s to implement a number of short term measures for the balance of the 2013 home and away and finals series.

As we enter the final series beginning with the Lightening Carnivals this weekend for the U9’s, I implore everyone to reflect on what your role is within your club and the responsibilities you have, be it as a supporter, match day official, coach or team manager.

If you observe offensive behaviour towards our players and umpires or other club officials and supporters be bold enough to either remind the person to think about their actions and stop it or report to your team manager or club committee.

If you are reported or subject to an investigation that goes to a tribunal hearing and found guilty of a breach of our by-laws, be assured that the SMJFL will apply a zero tolerance and first strike policy and will impose penalties accordingly.

We all have a responsibility to act as role models for players and umpires.

Best Regards,

Roger Teale

Chairman, South Metro Junior Football League