Mark Robinson criticises AFL chiefs for holding back review on female umpire abuse

The AFL was happy to make a song and dance about player dissent – but where’s the apology to those subjected to sexual abuse and harassment, asks Mark Robinson.

The AFL dropped the ball on two major issues revealed at the weekend.

The AFL privately scoffed at psychologist Jacqui Louder’s criticism of umpiring dissent after she dared to link human instinct to player reaction.

But much, much worse was how and why the AFL kept the public in the dark about the sexual abuse and harassment crisis within the female umpiring fraternity.

Surely, shining a light into the dark corners helps expose the wrongs and helps open the pathways of hope and progression.

Eleni Glouftsis, the AFL’s first female field umpire.
Eleni Glouftsis, the AFL’s first female field umpire.

Discussing all things brain matter, as Louder expertly did in Saturday’s Herald Sun, can foolishly be labelled as a crackpot theory, which is the side the AFL took.

But the same could be argued about the crackpot leadership from the AFL over the female umpire crisis.

The disturbing and confronting report was finished in August and, the AFL said, it was distributed to up to 80 people within the AFL network.

But it appears it was not sent to the people who decide on if it should be made public or not.

The AFL mucked up, because none of the head honchos or consultants suggested it might be a good idea to bring the public along for the ride by making this damning report public.

In this case, a problem shared might not be a problem halved, but certainly a problem shared might stop the knuckleheads thinking it is cool to talk about boobs and calling women umpires “sluts”.

Or at least prompt people within ear shot at footy games to call out said behaviour.

One of the positives about the AFL calling out racism 20-odd years ago and players taking a stand was the policing by fans in the stands.

The power of the mob can never be underestimated.

Clearly, the AFL’s intention was good, but the execution was poor.

The league says it is addressing the issues raised in the report, such as facilities for women, leadership roles for women, and working on policy, guidelines and investment.

But it was a PR failure.

The anecdotal evidence in the report, revealed by the Herald Sun on Sunday, was graphic and disturbing and it’s little wonder footy has a problem attracting female umpires.

The AFL said in March it was 6000 umpires short on the of the footy season.

With the explosion of female footy, the battle to attract female umpires is very real — and confronting.

DAMNING: READ THE FULL 62-PAGE REPORT HERE

An umpire throws the ball back into play. Picture: Michael Dodge
An umpire throws the ball back into play. Picture: Michael Dodge

The AFL did not bury the report, but it mismanaged its findings.

Oddly, the AFL was happy to make a song and dance about player dissent and even the boss, Gillon McLachlan, apologised for letting the players’ behaviour get out of hand on his watch.

But nothing of the sort for the women subjected to the sexist and sexual behaviour at community levels, the very levels the AFL says it is fully supportive of.

There was two weeks of debate about “arms up is 50m, mate’’ which was described as being a crisis.

No, the real crisis is broadly the disgusting environment in which female umpires are operating within at grassroots level.

This is the crisis.

So, where’s the apology from the AFL to the women and girls who were courageous enough to share their harrowing storytelling?

Any acknowledgment of those victims from headquarters?

The AFL, meanwhile, apologised to AFL umpires in March this year because they felt dissent at the highest level was out of control.

Nevermind that most people thought the new dissent rules were overkill and that “arms out is 50m mate” was a sporting joke.

And let’s be honest, and to be honest, the crackdown on dissent has dissipated somewhat inside two weeks.

The AFL did not bury the report, but it mismanaged its findings. Picture: David Crosling
The AFL did not bury the report, but it mismanaged its findings. Picture: David Crosling

Yes, the players are better behaved, but dissent remains without a 50m penalty being paid.

Dissent is only a small part of several crises within the game.

Carlton, thankfully, is appealing the suspension of Lachie Young who was given one match for basically hitting the body of North Melbourne’s Cameron Zurhaar too hard.

And at the MCG on Sunday, a shepherd was paid as a free kick to Collingwood’s Jack Ginnivan, which stumped Fox Footy commentators.

It’s a contact sport isn’t it?

Agreed, the new world order is difficult to get your head around.

But what’s not difficult is understanding and accepting the science behind human behaviour.

And, more urgently, confronting and eradicating the toxic men’s culture which permeates in the ever growing world of female involvement in footy.

The age of the knucklehead is over. And we all have to police that.