The Roar
The Roar


The pope doesn't umpire sport

Umpires are humans, too. (AFP Photo / Ian Kington)
17th February, 2016
1208 Reads

Why in the hell is it that fans get so wrapped up in umpiring decisions?

Seemingly, no matter the code, fans tend to believe that umpires and referees should possess papal-like infallibility.

For some reason many spectators simply cannot tolerate incorrect umpiring decisions.

Why umpires are judged in this light lacks common sense, although sporting fans at times are not always known for having this quality in abundance.

Let’s look at the sport of cricket in isolation for a minute.

In a four-innings match, as many as 40 wickets can fall. Each of them comes about as a result of human error. All because, in a split second, a player makes a flawed decision – he leaves a ball that hits the stumps, pops up a catch, misjudges a run, or gets hit on the pads rather than using his bat.

Conversely, batsmen can be given lives by errors – or at times complete ineptitude – in the field. Elementary catches can be grassed and batsmen can be reprieved by a no ball.

Such mistakes are looked upon as part and parcel of the game. However, umpiring errors are seldom viewed as sympathetically by the fans.

In sports like AFL vitriol can be taken to the extreme with the ire and invective directed at the umpires frequently over the top.


While working for the ABC I spent about 15 years hosting a two-hour Saturday morning sports talkback programme in Perth. The questions from some listeners at times simply left me shaking my head.

It was not unusual to field a call where a certain umpiring decision from the previous weekend was called into question.

Yes, the previous weekend!

“What did you make of that decision in the third quarter last weekend where Matthew Pavlich was pinged for holding the ball. How could he have been penalised for that?” was the sort of thing that would be asked.

If it wasn’t for the sensibility of working for the national broadcaster I may have answered, “Who gives a stuff?”

Honestly, I would have called the game and would have no recollection of the incident in question nor would I think it of any importance if I did. Yet to many fans it was an injustice that needed to be dissected and addressed – albeit seven days later!

Similar questions would not be asked about how a certain player could miss a set shot from 20 metres out directly in front. Or how a player could kick the ball into play following a behind and put it straight on the chest of an opponent 25 metres away, only to see it go back over his head for a goal.

No, they were just skill errors that, while unfortunate, were not to be dwelt on. But an umpiring error, what the hell, that should simply not have happened.


How many times do we hear comments like, ‘he’s only a youngster’ or ‘it’s his first game’ when a player makes a bad blue? But an umpire in his first game in front of a crowd of 50,000 at the MCG is never given the same leeway.

‘He should know the bloody rules,’ would be the crowd reaction upon a blatant error.

Guess what, he does know the rules but in the heat of the moment made an error of judgement. Just like the first-game player who knows that he needs to get back from the man on the mark before he tries to kick the ball but fails to do so and a turnover – and possibly goal – results.

It is completely illogical to accept that players will, by nature, make countless errors during a match, no matter the code, but the officials controlling the encounter should be blemish free or very close to it.

Fans may baulk at the proposition but, believe it or not, umpires are human. And, as a result, humans are – with the curious exception of the chap who occupies a bedroom in Vatican City’s Papal Palace – fallible.

Seriously, I kid you not.

So next time when a group of cricketers go up in unison in a raucous appeal because a batsman has had a complete brain fade and left a ball that has hit him roughly in line with the stumps, do not be totally dismayed if he is given not out.

The fielding team may have no reviews left yet replays and technology show the batsman should have been out. Yet, as is often the case in life, one poor piece of judgement can be followed by a second.


But by largely discounting the first while completely being up in arms about the second you are missing the point. If sporting participants can make errors, umpires can, and will, too.

It is a fact of life.

And just as we move on rapidly from the myriad blunders that sportspeople make we should really do likewise with respect to the umpires.

When all is said and done, life is short.