12 Aug 2020

Netball's governing body allows non-neutral umpires

11:58 pm on 12 August 2020

The next time the Silver Ferns play a Test, it could be controlled by non-neutral umpires for the first time in several years.

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Silver Fern Ameliaranne Ekenasio during last year's Constellation Cup. Photo: Photosport

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Netball Federation has introduced an interim policy, that would allow umpires to referee games involving their own country, if it was too difficult to bring in umpires from overseas.

Border restrictions and quarantine requirements would make it too impractical for most countries to be able to recruit neutral umpires at the moment.

It could be music to the ears for some sections of the netball community who have long argued the best umpires should umpire Tests, no matter who's playing.

Australian and New Zealand umpires are widely regarded as the best because they referee some of the best players in the world week in week out in their domestic leagues.

After the Constellation Cup series decider in Perth last year between New Zealand and Australia, Dame Noeline Taurua was furious after players on both sides were confused by several umpiring calls.

At the time Dame Noeline said she was "disturbed" about the umpire appointment process for the game.

New Zealand was penalised 66 times in the 53-46 defeat to Australia, having averaged 42 penalties over the first three tests.

She said it was hard for players to adapt to the interpretations of an umpire from Singapore who had not controlled any of the earlier Tests.

It prompted a recurring discussion about whether the rule that required neutral umpires for Tests needed to change.

Neutral umpires were first used for international netball in 1993. For a few years after that it came down to the preference of the countries involved and would vary each series. Since the early 2000s it's been mandatory.

ANZ Premiership whistler Gareth Fowler, who umpired at the World Cup in Liverpool last year, admits there would be pressure but "it would be an absolute honour to be appointed to such a game," he said.

"You would feel that added kind of burden, however we regularly umpire the Silver Ferns at trials or practice matches and last year we did at the Cadbury series which was obviously a non INF sanctioned event, so I think it would be exciting."

There's no indications yet as to when the Silver Ferns might play their next Test.

Netball New Zealand's preference was to wait for a trans-Tasman bubble to open up but with that not likely for some time, they are having to investigate other options.