Netball Expert & Columnist
Constellation Cup Test: Netball must get fundamentals right after controversy, says Tamsin Greenway
"We can't keep pushing our game forward if we don't have the right infrastructure and the umpiring arena now needs to be addressed."
Last Updated: 29/10/19 10:33am
Tamsin Greenway reflects on the situation that arose last weekend during and after the Constellation Cup Test and looks at the area of umpiring and what must be addressed for netball to move forwards...
Off the back of discussing issues like getting netball into the Olympics, this weekend showed that right now there are probably bigger fish to fry on the international scene.
We've got to get the fundamentals right within our sport first because we can't keep pushing our game forward if we don't have the right infrastructure and the umpiring arena now needs to be addressed.
First and foremost let's be completely honest, umpiring and the styles of umpires allocated to games have always made a slight difference to how you can play.
However, the interesting element to this weekend and the final Constellation Cup Test, which took place between Australia and New Zealand were the direct comments from Noeline Taurua, Norma Plummer and other netball figureheads in interviews and on social media after.
What disastrous exhibition of umpiring - they are killing the game - can someone tell them they are to officiate not take over - getting more attention than the players.— Norma Plummer (@Coach_Plum) October 27, 2019
I've looked at the stats in regards to the penalty count and written it down because this is how disturbed I am by it. You have umpires coming in who haven't played or officiated a game, get off the plane and next minute the whole interpretation of things have gone out the window ... what are we trying to do with our game? I think as a national body in our sport we really need to look at the officiating or what the format is.
The direct words said by Taurua and Plummer are very unusual, in netball we don't often speak out about the umpires, but looking at the match and the stats - New Zealand had a penalty-count of 66 - it's absolutely no surprise they have been so vocal.
Stats can show you a lot about umpiring styles and effects on the game. You only have to look back to the Superleague final this year there were clear differences in scoring for both teams from one end to another - the impact can really be felt on the board and teams and coaches can often feel unfairly penalised.
At international level, when appointing umpires for the series, the decision is done by the International Netball Federation and due to the history of the game, the top nations in the world are given neutral umpires for matches.
The bigger picture right now is can we realistically continue to do this in the short term? Or do we start to discuss the option of the top umpires in the world umpire the top games in the world regardless of nationality?
The reason I ask that is because the reality is that, right now, when you look across the board of the international umpires available to be selected for those world-class games, it becomes clear that we haven't got the right calibre of umpire across all nations in the world. We don't have the depth of umpires with the experience or expertise to handle those type of pressure matches.
I think that we've got to be realistic with the depth [of umpires] full stop, even if you look away from the international stage at the best domestic competition - Suncorp - it was both Michelle Phippard and Helen George who played big parts in nearly all the semi-finals and the final.
That tells you about the competition wanting the very best, but also the pressure and experience that they have to have and go through to be the best of the best and to keep up with the ever-changing professional era.
The INF are continuing to try and grow the number of international umpires, which I understand, but shouldn't the focus right now be on getting the ones that are already there up to the standard that we need them to be at, so they thrive and feel comfortable in these situations?
Neutral or not, and I'd prefer it to be neutral, surely we have to start moving in the direction of highlighting perhaps the top 10 umpires in the world, invest in them and develop them so that allocations of the top games are done on performance?
But, it seems to come down to the same issue - funding. Ideally you could centrally contract and pay the best international umpires for the year, sending them to all the major tests to ensure that issues of availability (which were present for this series) aren't a problem. That would mean that financially it's not a challenge for umpires to need to take time off from their day jobs, as an example.
Interestingly there's a big commercial push in England Netball's umpiring department now to look at opportunities, advertising and models that have worked in other sports so that they can begin to help fund the programme properly.
I also think, from an INF point of view we've got to move away from the 'fairness' to absolute performance. This is not about giving everybody a go at the top games. A proper development programme needs to put in place so no umpire is dropped in the deep end, live on TV, in front of a 13,000 plus crowd and in a goal-for-goal affair. It's simply not fair on the umpire, player, team or spectator.
This is about performance at the highest level. For the Constellation Cup, World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Vitality Nations Cup, you need the best umpires in the world. There are then other opportunities to help support the group coming through underneath.
This, by the way, is by no means having a go at the existing umpires. The point is we need them and remember internationally they are not being paid. They are only paid their expenses, so many of them have full-time jobs which impacts on this role. Without the right support, development and funding how do we expect them to move into the professional era?
It's the same within our own domestic competition here in England, umpires are also just paid their expenses.
However we have a programme in place that provides the Superleague umpires to attend a pre-season camp, and then they are mentored and monitored across the season
That requires funding, clearly, and to get all of the expenses covered across the season it costs around £25,000.
We're aware we need to get them [the domestic umpires] up to international standard but once they get put into this INF system, does the same support even exist? Reflecting on the fallout from this weekend it clearly needs to be reviewed...
Looking back at the World Cup we had all these umpires taking two weeks off work to perform at the sports biggest competition and all they are getting is their expenses paid. It's just madness.
It seems the situation this weekend was just waiting to happen, and now World Netball are going to have to face up to this and work out once again how we all move forward together in the best interest of the game.
Sky Sports is your home of netball and live action returns with the Vitality Roses' three-Test tour to South Africa. The first Test from the Velodrome in Cape Town will be shown live on November 29 at 5.30pm.