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Open Message to SMJFL Community 

Offensive & Abusive Behaviour 

Last year I circulated an Open Message to the SMJFL Community about offensive and abusive behaviour on match days by officials, parents or supporters. 

The impact this is having on our players and umpires is profound with a number of our players indicating an unwillingness to continue  to play football or umpire. 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. 200 games at 50-65 ovals we play on each weekend, so we need the Clubs to effectively manage their own spectators, officials and players. 

Last year 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, officials 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. 

While the SMJFL is blessed to have a relatively low amount of match day incidents (in comparison to other Melbourne football leagues), last season saw an increase in the number of complaints that are being investigated by our administration. This is a huge drain on the administration of not only the league, but volunteer Club committee members as well. 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 350+ registered umpires and has a direct responsibility as their employer for their health and well-being. 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 and supporting your own child or team, 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. 

The AFL has recently launched a crowd behaviour campaign to improve crowd behaviour at AFL matches. This campaign will be played via the AFL website, AFL match venues (MCG etc.) and AFL match broadcasts (Channel 7, Fox Sports etc.). SMJFL whole heartedly supports this at a grass roots level and asks all players, officials, volunteers, parents & supporters to watch the short 1 minute video by clicking on the link below. 

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This problem cannot be solved solely 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 has recently formed a Match Day Behaviour Working Party with representatives from our clubs to develop a number of strategies that will address the issue for implementation at the start of the 2015 season, as well as some new initiatives for 2014. All Club Presidents endorsed this initiative in late 2013. 

As part of the initiatives for 2014, SMJFL this year will publish the tribunal results on the SMJFL website to deter poor match day behaviour.  As part of this initiate, the SMJFL will post on the website the outcome of Tribunal hearings, including the report details, round, age group and match.  The notification will not identify the names of any person charged and found guilty of an offence who is under the age of 18.  The names of those found guilty of offences who are over the age of 18 will appear on the website. 

Earlier this year the SMJFL asked for Clubs feedback on the introduction of club appointed Ground Marshalls. While the SMJFL has taken the feedback on-board and not implemented this for 2014, the onus and responsibility is now on every Member Club to ensure that they manage the behaviour of their players, officials, parents & supporters. It is also the responsibility of parents & supporters to report poor match day behaviour of fellow supporters to their Team Manager and/or Club Committee. 

One way Clubs can better manage match day behaviour is through the existing Umpires Escort role. While SMJFL appreciates the difficulty Clubs have in sourcing volunteers, the SMJFL asks all Member Clubs to ensure that appropriate person(s) are designated as the team umpires escort to ensure that the match day behaviour of their spectators is appropriate. Failure to do so can result in possible sanctions to the Club and/or individual(s). The relevant By-Laws for the role of the Umpires Escort is listed below:

-Both teams must supply an Umpires’ Escort, who shall escort the field umpires to and from the ground at the commencement of the match, at half-time and at the conclusion of the match. Each escort shall commence from or conclude at the door of the Umpires’ Room, as the case may be.

-During the first and third quarter breaks the Umpires’ Escorts must remain with the umpires, and provide drinks for them.

-Umpires’ Escorts shall be responsible for addressing issues involving the behaviour of their team’s spectators towards the umpires.

-During play Umpires’ Escorts shall act as Interchange Stewards to ensure that players enter and exit the ground via the designated interchange area.

As we enter the beginning of the 2014 season this weekend, 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. Remembering after all, that we – SMJFL, Clubs, players, officials, parents, supporters – are all collectively trying to continue to foster a safe, positive, family friendly atmosphere for our players to participate in. 

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. 

Good luck to all this season. 

Best regards, 

Roger Teale


South Metro Junior Football League