Player-turned-umpire Leigh Fisher walks out with his fellow whistleblowers.
Player-turned-umpire Leigh Fisher walks out with his fellow whistleblowers.

AFL blows whistle on umpire death threats

THE AFL's integrity team has been forced to follow up several death threats against umpires in recent years as umpire Matt Stevic revealed the mental toll on the league's whistleblowers.

AFL umpires association boss Peter Howe confirmed to the Herald Sun the AFL's integrity team aggressively tracked down the perpetrators.

That process involves identifying them through social media channels and assessing the potential threat to the umpire.

Stevic on Friday night spoke of the "stresses and anxieties" of umpiring, revealing he had received a death threat after paying a push-in-the-back free kick against Cam Mooney in the 2010 qualifying final against St Kilda.

That free kick was judged correct but the Cats lost the chance to defend their 2009 premiership.

Stevic spoke after NRL umpire Matt Cecchin retired to protect his family following years of intense criticism and a death threat after a World Cup decision.

 

Cameron Mooney protests the free kick paid by umpire Matt Stevic.
Cameron Mooney protests the free kick paid by umpire Matt Stevic.

 

Howe believes the AFL public is much more informed about umpiring and has a more responsible attitude than the bad old days when they would gather at the players' race at half-time to abuse the whistleblowers.

But he confirmed the league had been forced to intervene several times in recent years to ensure the protection of umpires.

"It is something we have had to deal with. I would never say it is common but it has happened before and the AFL integrity unit has dealt with it very quickly on each occasion," he said.

"There have been a handful over the seven years I have been in my role. We have always tended to find in a majority of cases it is someone after a game who has got on social media and decided to vent.

 

Player turned umpire Leigh Fisher walks out with his fellow whistleblowers.
Player turned umpire Leigh Fisher walks out with his fellow whistleblowers.

 

"When (the AFL's) people knock on the door the next morning they have always been very circumspect and apologetic about it."

The umpires department has no set policy on umpires being on social media but those who are receive education by the AFL on ways to safeguard against constant abuse.

Howe said some of umpiring's more colourful characters often decided to steer clear given the potential downside of social media.

The league's umpires have two sports psychologists to talk through any issues as well as a twice-yearly mental health check-up through phone app Medibio.

If an issue is identified umpires are referred to professionals.

 

Umpires prepare for the Geelong-Hawthorn clash last week.
Umpires prepare for the Geelong-Hawthorn clash last week.

 

Stevic is considered one of the AFL's elite umpires, officiating in 350 senior games since 2004.

"It's a wonderful job but what comes with that are many stresses," he told ABC Radio.

"I think we all underestimate how mentally demanding the game is and the stresses and anxieties attached to the sport.

"Geelong fans will remember this, it was Cam Mooney (against James Gwilt) and I paid an in-the-back at the 'G, St Kilda-Geelong final, Lingy swooped in and kicked a goal, two points up with a minute to go.

"I had called in-the-back and we cancelled the score and Geelong lose the game.

"I had a death threat out of that particular game but since then there hasn't been anything to that degree. My superior said it was the right call but it does affect you a little bit."

 

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