Constant rule changes with very little trialling such as the new sliding rule are causing umpires to be blamed for not interpreting them correctly despite an obvious confusion that extends through to past players, media critics and fans alike. Umpires are used to copping it week in, week out from supporters but there comes a time when one must look at the rules and the vague descriptions and contradictory examples which lead to misinterpretations. Without time, effort and development put into kids from a young age, we wouldn’t have the elite players running around on the MCG that we have today. The same applies with umpires, who, like players learn their craft in their local leagues, with some hoping to officiate at the top level some day.

This past weekend, round six in the AFL was umpire appreciation round. Over the early rounds of the season, it’s fair to say that there hasn’t been a lot of appreciation for them and whilst on the odd occasion, it might be warranted, the problems lie deeper than a wrong call or two during the game.

In the first month of football, the raging debate among fans was regarding the new sliding rule. This particular rule was only trialed in this year’s NAB Cup and swiftly brought into this year’s AFL campaign with no real clarity surrounding it. The decision to implement the rule upon only a short pre-season trial was met with confusion and frustration from coaches, players and fans alike.

Unfortunately it was not just the AFL which was forced to adapt to this new rule with local league umpires in the WRFL also been instructed to adapt to the sliding rule. It seems quite bizarre that umpires of local football leagues, some as young as 16 years of age are being told to officiate with this ruling when umpires of the highest quality in the country are struggling to get it right. One can’t blame the individual umpires, but more so the Rules of the Game Committee. It doesn’t make it fair on the umpires, players or the supporters to have to put up with a variety of rules that are often in question.

One other rule that has come under scrutiny over the last fortnight has been the ‘in the back’ rule, with tensions running high among all involved in the game as what you can and cannot do. On some occasions, umpires are blinded by the fact that one player might be simply too strong for the other and mistake the use of the body as an illegal way of gaining possession of the ball. It is out there for all to see at AFL matches as fans will abuse the umpires. While the fans’ opinion might not phase umpires at that level, it certainly affects those at the local level, especially when the majority of them are teenagers.

Everyone has let the umpires know how they’re feeling from time to time, but in the minor leagues around the country, umpire numbers aren’t as strong as some would like. A misinterpretation of the rule from either the umpire or the fan can lead to tensions boiling over and this accumulates to being a main reason as to why some leagues struggle to have officials. It is quite often you see a brother or a dad of a child running the boundary in a white shirt or even sometimes on the field.

Regardless of what happens, umpiring will always remain a contentious issue among all those who follow the game. Everyone must remember that umpires do their job because they love what they do just like the players. This is why simplifying the rules is extremely important in ensuring the game is played at it’s best and makes it easier for everyone to enjoy.