The men in white who run out alongside the players every game often get overlooked, or even taunted, for their decisions on the field, but without them, the game would simply not be.
While the 2010 inaugural European Championships was a milestone for AFL in Europe, it also paved the way for the ‘stewards’ of the game – the umpires – to stamp their mark on the competition.
Three years on and the umpiring fraternity has gained momentum and a list of enthusiastic Europeans to govern fair play in this great game.
AFL Europe Umpires Coordinator, Shane Hill, suggests that developing and nurturing competent European umpires will stand the game in good stead for continued growth.
“Umpires of Australian Football in Europe now have a structured development pathway they can follow, enabling Europe’s finest whistle blowers to reach their true potential,” explains Hill.
The new breed of European umpires is acknowledged for their achievements through internationally recognised certification and appointment to local, national and international competition. Hill explains that the more exposure to the game and education of its rules the umpires in particular can get, the better off the competition will be.
“In terms of education, umpires and players alike have benefitted from attending our introductory ‘Level 0’ courses held across the region,” states Hill.
The aforementioned Level 0 course is a one day workshop in which participants learn all the fundamentals of being an umpire. Attendees aren’t expected to have any prior knowledge of the game and hence, the course seeks to provide a “safe learning environment where everyone feels free to ask the ‘silly’ questions,” according to Hill.
As of August 2013, close to 100 umpiring hopefuls had completed the course, some of whom have gone on to umpire in marquee events such as the European Championships. Several others have also completed the Level 1 accreditation course, which provides a more in depth understanding of an umpire’s role.
Confidence building is a major aspect of the course as the freshly certified umpires are encouraged to trial their new found knowledge in a practice game on the day.
Once certified, they may be called upon to officiate local matches in their region or even national or international competitions. One Bordeaux local, Alexandre Garandel, who made his boundary umpiring debut at the Euro Cup in September, 2013, experienced just that.
“I was nervous, I didn’t want to make mistakes because it’s important for AFL in France,” he stated.
Many locally sourced umpires took to the field in the 2013 Euro Cup alongside Garandel and more experienced Australian and European officials. This was a great sign for not only the status of AFL umpires in Europe, but also the game at large.
The development of AFL in Europe depends heavily on collaboration between players, umpires and officials, who are all striving towards the same goal. The support provided through the Umpiring Association is imperative to the longevity and continued growth of the game the world over.
Words from Shane Hill:
With understanding of the game and respect for the role of our umpires in Europe at an all-time high, umpiring is truly everybody’s business. If you would like further details about the game or how to become an umpire in your local league, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, follow our somewhat irreverent updates via the AFL Europe Umpires Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/afleuropeumpires) and on Twitter (@AusFootball).