AFL doubles back in fight to clean up toxic culture in umpiring fraternity

The league will turn back the clock by 12 months as it ups the ante to eliminate a disturbing culture which had failed female umpires. A leaked email reveals how it is expected to work.

The AFL is again surveying female football umpires as part of its bid to fix the toxic culture that was exposed by a report handed to the league almost 12 months ago.

A leaked email sent last week shows state-league umpires have been given until 5pm on Friday to complete an internal and confidential online survey for the AFL in the fallout to that report, which was published by the Herald Sun last month.

“The Umpiring report provided some recommendations which we are working through, however, we also want you all to have an opportunity to provide feedback on what is working well and where we need to focus,” the email from AFL human resources staffer Amy Adams said.

“This feedback will help inform our next steps and consolidate our action plan going forward.

“This survey is an opportunity to share your experiences, provide insight into the culture of State League Umpiring (training and matches) and help the AFL understand what we can improve.

“Following the survey, and off the back of the feedback we receive in the survey, we will then determine our next steps which may include some listen and learn sessions and sharing the feedback received.”

State-league umpires have also been told the AFL is committed to reintroducing a female liaison officer and running education sessions focusing on respectful relationships, to be attended by all umpires.

They were also issued details on the AFL’s complaints resolution policy and procedure, which states: “We are deeply committed to taking fast and appropriate action if inappropriate behaviour occurs and we take a ‘person centred’ approach to ensure our people receive appropriate care, issues and managed sensitively and that wellbeing support is provided during and post any process”.

Some umpires set to provide feedback this week also participated in the damning 2019 investigation that was funded by the AFL and conducted by the University of Sydney.

Back then, 27 female and non-binary umpires told traumatic stories of sexual harassment and abuse. The report was largely ignored by AFL executives until it was published by the Herald Sun.

The Herald Sun revealed on Monday that WorkSafe Victoria visited AFL House to make preliminary inquiries on the sexual harassment and abuse of female umpires.

It’s understood AFL general manager of legal and regulatory Stephen Meade was a key figure at that meeting and the league has since had its Women and Girls Action Plan approved by the Commission.

AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon, head of mental health and wellbeing Kate Hall and acting general manager of people Lisa Lawry were also in that meeting.

Adams and Hall have held “really open and honest” conversations with female umpires recently.

Lawry starts as the new general manager of umpiring on Monday.

That position was created in the fallout to the leaked report. AFL head of umpiring Dan Richardson will report to Lawry as of next week.

WorkSafe questions AFL over ump abuse
WorkSafe Victoria is considering a probe into the sexual harassment and abuse of female football umpires.

The Herald Sun can reveal inspectors for the health and safety regulator attended AFL House in late May, where they made preliminary inquiries with senior league executives.

It’s understood AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon, acting general manager of people Lisa Lawry and head of mental health and wellbeing Dr Kate Hall were in the meeting.


Several documents were handed over by the AFL, understood to include the gender equity action plan that was recently tabled to the AFL Commission.

They are currently under review at WorkSafe.

The inquiry has landed with the specialised psychosocial team, which deals with bullying, sexual harassment and mental health-related issues in workplaces.

WorkSafe wants to know what systems the AFL will put in place to ensure subsidiary leagues meet their obligations to manage the risk and respond to incidents of sexual harassment.

If the AFL is found to be not compliant with legislation then WorkSafe could launch a full-scale investigation.

It is the second active WorkSafe inquiry into the operations of the AFL, with the league’s handling of concussion and its return-to-play protocols also under the microscope.

The latest inquiry follows the Herald Sun’s exclusive reporting on the existence of the AFL’s report into the national female umpiring shortage, which had been previously undisclosed.

An alleged victim’s resulting complaint to WorkSafe also contributed to the case being opened.

The AFL on Sunday confirmed it had spoken to WorkSafe.

“In a recent meeting with WorkSafe the AFL provided context on the commissioning of the report by the AFL, the actions already taken and initiatives planned based on the recommendations outlined in the report, as well as providing details on the AFL

existing Mental Health & Wellbeing framework and plans to address imminent new State Government regulations that will impose obligations on employers to identify and address psychosocial hazards,” a league spokesperson said.

The damning AFL-commissioned 62 page report – Girls and women in Australian football umpiring: Understanding registration, participation and retention – exposed a toxic culture in which women are sexually harassed and abused by colleagues, coaches and spectators.

The league paid $30,000 for the report. It was conducted by the University of Sydney and interviewed 27 female and non-binary umpires from across Australia.

The report, including 11 recommendations, was sent to the AFL last August but was largely ignored by league powerbrokers.

Co-author Damien Anderson said he and lead investigator Dr Victoria Rawlings hosted two one-hour workshops discussing the findings with the AFL in May, 2021 – months before the report was .completed.

AFLW supremo Nicole Livingstone and head of umpiring Dan Richardson sat in those presentations.

But Anderson said he quit his role as the AFL’s community umpiring development manager last November after the research fell on deaf ears.

On May 26 this year, Lawry was appointed to the newly-created position of general manager of umpiring.

She will sit above Richardson when that role begins next week (July 4).

When the report emerged in the Herald Sun, AFL acting chief executive Kylie Rogers said sorry to “any woman who suffers harassment or sexism of any kind”.

Rogers described the report’s findings as “horrific” and confirmed the AFL first received the document last August.

But AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan claimed he did not read the report until it was published by the Herald Sun because it never reached his inbox.

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett was “astonished” that the disturbing research was ignored.

“We have been told time and time again that the biggest challenge we have is with umpires at all levels,” Kennett told the Herald Sun.

“Yet here there are a number of umpires, women in particular, who have been abused and when I challenged Gill and (AFL chairman) Richard (Goyder), they said they’d never seen the report, never been handed the report.

“(It is) absolutely astonishing. I would be furious if as head of an organisation that had commissioned a report that indicated such a breakdown, that no one had brought it to my attention.”

Then Federal Employment and Workforce Minister Stuart Robert urged the AFL to take action the day the Herald Sun published the AFL’s report.

“As the Workforce Minister I’m telling them – resolve it now,” Robert said.

“If they don’t, there are workplace laws that can be enacted because this is a workplace and everyone needs to understand that.

“We love our footy … but this is a workplace and people should feel safe and respected in their workplace.”

WorkSafe Victoria has also visited the Western Region Football League to discuss umpire fatigue management issues.

The WRFL was forthcoming with documents and inspectors were satisfied that steps had been taken to improve any issues around fatigue.

That inquiry ran independently to the broader gender-based case that remains open.

Source: Herald Sun

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