26 Mar 2014

Don’t be a spectator from hell

12:41 pm on 26 March 2014

I was shocked to read last week that an off-duty policeman, dubbed by a judge as a “spectator from hell”, assaulted a referee at a game of football.

He was banned for two years from the sportsground after he grabbed a ref by the throat while watching his son’s game. Because of his actions the referee hasn’t gone back to officiating premier games, the New Zealand Herald reports.

This man, a police officer, is supposed to be a role model within our community. I have the utmost respect for the police, but what message does this send to his son and other players and spectators? People like him, who abuse referees, are actually turning officials away from the game, and without referees and umpires we can’t have official games.  

Until I left school I umpired every Saturday at my local netball club and I’d also umpire at regional and national school competitions. I’d umpire any level – from Kiwi netball to adult grade – and I did it because I enjoyed giving back to a sport I grew up playing. I was doing my bit. I won local awards and was nominated for regional awards for my umpiring. But it wasn’t all sunny days on the sideline.

I never had any problems with players. It was coaches, and parents especially, that I had difficulty with. Parents were the worst. “How dare you pull up my child? They didn’t step!” “The opposition is standing too close, why aren’t you pulling them up for obstruction!” “Hey, that player just elbowed my kid!” “That was a shit call, ref”

I’ve heard it all. I would let a few comments pass. Then I’d give a warning, letting them know that just like everyone else I’m a volunteer, if a qualified one. Most people would get the message. Only a handful of times did I stop the game to deal with an abusive spectator. I would call time, hand over my whistle to them and take a seat. I gave them an opportunity to prove that umpiring is as easy as it looks. Not one abusive spectator took up my offer. But they were usually quiet after that and allowed me to get on with my job.

If I had said nothing and done nothing then I would have been reinforcing the idea that it’s OK to abuse officials.

But spectators’ abuse isn’t just targeted at officials. Players and coaches also cop it as well. Spectators will be abusive to display their frustration or dissatisfaction. Maybe a call didn’t go their team’s way, or their team player did something wrong.

It’s partly this country’s rampant Tall Poppy Syndrome. Maybe spectators are only trying to bring someone (who is more athletic and more talented than them) down. Theyre trying to cut them down to their size.

How do we prevent abusive from happening? The reality is that we’ll never really stop abuse in all its forms, but shared values and a strong team culture can help it. If you are involved in a sporting team or organisation create and share values that align with your shared goals and culture you’d like to have. Get everyone on the same page – sporting participants and spectators alike.  

Both the New Zealand Herald and Stuff have done a lot of coverage of this issue, and so has Radio New Zealand.

Last year, Kathryn Ryan spoke with Sarah Leberman, an expert in sport (and a personal hero of mine), about being a better supporter on the sideline.

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Some quick points...

The World Twenty20 competition is underway in Bangladesh. The Blackcaps beat England, but lost to South Africa, while the White Ferns had a 7-run win over Australia on the weekend, and a 42 run win over Ireland. Nicola Browne was named player of the game against Australia for her 19 ball 29 and her tight bowling. Interesting fact about Australian female cricketers… Many are contracted to Cricket Australia, which means they get paid to play and some could earn up to $80,000. Only four White Ferns are contracted, and all less than $40,000, which including school visits, and running coaching clinics. This is nearly half of what the lowest contracted Blackcap gets on retainer.)

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I wasn’t too sure what to think when I saw a study that said obese children who participated in console-based exercise (like Xbox Kinect and Nintendo Wii) lost twice as much weight than obese children who were in the “non-gaming” group. Obviously there are pros and cons to console-based exercise. The pros are at least children find something physical they enjoy and can connect to. It allows them to be active and being active is a very positive thing. But what about being inside all the time? The cons outweigh the pros by so much.

Plus, this study focused on a child’s weight. What kind of message is that sending? Should we not be focusing on being healthy and overall wellbeing? Consoles are also terribly anti-social. How do they encourage a positive, healthy lifestyle? Even with an individual sport you are surrounded by others doing the same thing and there is an aspect of socialness involved. Sport not only encourages you to be fit and healthy, it also helps build important life skills like interpersonal relationships, leadership, discipline, dedication, focus and sacrifice. Ditch the console and get outside.