The AFL and the AFL Umpires Association recently reached an historic agreement for financial compensation for the law enforcement arm of the game.

It will see seven percent, five percent, four percent and three percent increases progressively from 2012 to 2016 for wages of umpires, as well as more than $330,000 a year in funding to the AFL Umpires Association to support umpire development, welfare and promotion.

Umpiring is without a doubt the most thankless job in the AFL. Umpires are heckled by the crowd and subjected to abuse when they make decisions that supporters don’t agree with. They are required to have fitness on par to the players they adjudicate and have to make split second decisions on an increasingly complex set of rules during games that are played at a frenetic pace. Umpires are subjected to immense media and supporter scrutiny and held to an impossibly high standard.

The AFL needs to continue to attract talented, athletic individuals who possess both a love of the game and the capacity to make the decisions required to ensure it is adjudicated fairly.

Despite their importance and the pressure of their roles, umpires, are still not full-time. Most of them hold other jobs and they slot in their umpiring commitments around their work. Umpires commit around 20 hours a week to training and coaching and every decision they make in match day performances is assessed.

While the increase in salary for umpires is essential for recruiting and retaining staff, the AFL really needs to take the next step and look at making the position a full-time role. Undeniably, the role of the umpires is just as important as the one performed by the players; it is essential they have the dedication, integrity and, more importantly, the time required to devote themselves fully to adjudicating and increasingly complex game.

The increased funding to the AFL Umpires Association could continue the growth of the department, which already employs over 300 people across Australia. With the surety of a full-time career, good remuneration and a retirement plan in place, we could see more former players follow in the footsteps of former Essendon and Carlton player Jordan Bannister, who was promoted to the AFL umpires list in 2012 and performed very well in his first year.

With a game that is becoming increasingly more professional and heavily scrutinised with each passing year, it only makes sense that the AFL will eventually usher in full-time umpires. While the new agreement is a great first step, it is unfortunate it didn’t result in the umpires of our game being given the same opportunities as the players to focus solely on their careers and the importance of them.