We wish to provide you with an update on the story published in media today on community umpiring, and the unacceptable experiences of some of our female participants.
A report was commissioned in conjunction with the University of Sydney to understand the key reasons why the numbers of women and girls in our umpiring ranks had not increased in line with the numbers of new women and girls playing football. The AFL received this report late in 2021 with 11 key recommendations.
Those key recommendations have formed the basis for action on ensuring change in our pathways and programs but, as a crucial point, there was key detail in the main body of the report that outlined some extremely negative and unacceptable experiences for some of our female umpire members, which has drawn considerable focus and attention as it should.
I want to make clear on behalf of the AFL that those incidents and those behaviours are wholly unacceptable and while the incidents that where outlined were done so under an agreement of anonymity, the AFL encourages any of the aggrieved umpires can have their matter investigated (or further investigated) by the making of a report to the AFL Integrity & Security team through the existing Respect & Responsibility Policy (AFL) or Member Protection processes (Community Football), including providing wellbeing support for those who wish to access it.
We want women and girls to be able to thrive at every level and to ensure that we have the right support and structure in place to ensure that can happen.
It is why we are committed to ensuring that football at every level of the game provides an environment that is safe, welcoming and inclusive and where women and girls have equal opportunity and equal access to facilities.
There are many Umpires making a great contribution to football, and our game will be better when there are more women and girls not only in umpiring, but playing, coaching and administrating football.
As part of our work we need to develop more programs and initiatives that will encourage and support women to take on these roles.
We also must continue to invest more funding into community football which is why the AFL Commission approved an extra $8m last year to further support community football.
Our AFL Game Development team has been working on a Women and Girls Game Development Action Plan’ which is near completion and includes specific initiatives such as umpiring appointments, access to multi-gender or shared space facilities, establishing female mentoring programs to accelerate the pathway for women and girls and helping to achieve more gender-balanced leadership in all community football leagues and clubs.
That plan will go to the Commission for approval but much of it – whether addressing umpires, players, coaches, or administrators – is about ensuring that we help leagues and clubs from the community level to the talent pathways and through to the elite game and ensure they have the policies, procedures and promotion to encourage more women and girls into football and that when they are there they have an environment where any unacceptable behaviour is appropriately dealt with.
While the report was widely distributed across AFL and academic circles and was provided to those umpires who took part, it had not been publicly released as we focused on the recommendations and developing policies and initiatives based on the report’s findings and the AFL accepts that we could have shared the report publicly while that policy development process was underway.
I want to thank the University of Sydney and the report’s author Dr Victoria Rawlings for her important work, work that is being addressed and will continue to inform our efforts to drive greater diversity, greater inclusion, and greater involvement in our game at all levels.
I have included the statement we provided but AFL EGM Game Development Rob Auld, who is overseeing the Women and Girls Game Development Action Plan or myself are happy to take your call.