Research finds that abuse is seen as part
of the job and not always the reason for decreasing numbers
among the whistleblowers
Anyone who has heard the abuse hurled at
football umpires would be forgiven for thinking that this
is one of the main reasons sporting organisations struggle
to get enough people to blow a whistle.
But research at Deakin University has found the insults and
profanities are not the problem.
Dr Pamm Kellett, a senior lecturer in the School of Management
and Marketing, has researched umpire abuse and found that
the sorts of comments most of us would find distressing are
like water off a duck’s back to the men and women in
Rather than get upset, football umpires tend to accept the
abuse as part of their lot.
“We knew there was something about the culture that
allowed these people to understand the abuse quite differently
from the way other people would,” Dr Kellett said.
Twenty-two people who umpire Australian Rules football professionally
or semi-professionally were interviewed about what they find
rewarding about the role despite the abuse they receive.
The results indicated it is how the umpires themselves interpret
the abuse - not how we see it - that counts. And those attitudes
appear to be learned.
“The umpires seem to learn from the culture of their
environment,” Dr Kellett said. “There are important
lessons there for all sorts of managers that culture can play
an important part.”
Some research participants even held the view that, when a
person pays to see a game of footy, part of the deal is the
right to abuse the umpire. There also is evidence that the
administration contributes to umpires’ attitudes towards
“We found that in many cases the administrators help
set up the culture,” says Dr Kellett. “They set
up the expectation that it is normal for other people to abuse
The research indicated that interacting socially is very important
to umpires. Training, match days, social gatherings and accreditation
courses all provide them with the opportunity to mingle and
it is that kind of social interaction that holds the key to
their learning ways to deal with abuse, and therefore continuing
their involvement in umpiring.
These gatherings allow umpires to share experiences and they
act as a positive re-enforcement.
Previous research on umpire abuse has tended to focus on the
negative aspects of the role such as stress and burnout, Dr
Kellett found. Researchers have assumed umpiring is a negative
experience, and therefore those who take up umpiring are flawed
in some way.
Much of the previous research has tried to identify what sorts
of characteristics are deficient in their personalities or
what characteristics they possess that allow them to cope
with such abuse.
Shortages of umpires and officials appear across the board
in sports. For example, Hockey Canada loses 30 per cent of
its umpires every year. While Australian Rules football has
reported a small increase in the number of umpires, supply
still does not meet demand because the sport is increasing
in popularity and more people are participating.
“Until now, we have known little about why umpires take
up the role and what factors dictate whether or not they stay
but, if we want people to be able to participate in organised
sports, we need to find out,” Dr Kellett concluded.
“We need to optimise the strategies and tactics by which
we recruit, train and retain umpires.”
For more information of Dr Kellett and her work: