'Talking about my boobs': Leaked report highlights sexual harassment of female umpires

‘Talking about my boobs’: Leaked report highlights sexual harassment of female umpires

AFL

Female and non-binary umpires in Aussie rules have experienced sexual harassment, misogyny and racism that left some questioning their involvement in the sport, a leaked report has found.

In a study commissioned by the AFL and made public by the Herald Sun this week (after first being published in August), women, girls and one non binary person shared their accounts of experiencing gender-based harassment as umpires. The study was undertaken by the University of Sydney.

The report shares the experiences of umpires in the state league and community level, who say they have experienced sexual harassment from spectators, umpire coaches and fellow umpires. Instances of the harassment include unsolicited sexual images being sent to umpires multiple times, sexualised comments, and repetitive unwelcome approaches.

There were also accounts of umpires experiencing racist abuse from spectators, as well as feeling uncomfortable or excluded in changeroom settings.

The study considered the accounts of 26 current and former female umpires, and one non-binary umpire.

According to the report, girls and women represent only 10.8% of umpires in Australian Football, and only 2.6% of umpires at AFL level.

One umpire at the state league level said: “I used to receive messages of nudes that other umpires would send to me. And umpires during games would inappropriately touch me, like when we’re umpiring together and things like that. So, that’s what made me quit that level of umpiring [state league] because I thought it was too inappropriate and I didn’t know what to do about it at the time.”

Another said: “I openly overheard a group of guys talking about my boobs at training one night… I was walking up the stairs, and I overheard them being literally like, ‘Oh my god, have you seen [redacted] tits?’ And I turned around and I looked at them, and I was like are you serious? Like that’s what you’re going to say? That’s what you say at training? And it freaked me out a little bit to be like my god, what do you say like as a group behind my back?”

Another umpire said: “… when I used to run and I was a boundary umpire, a lot of people used to be like, ‘Run n****r [redacted] run!’ And they often scream that from the side of the thing. And I have big hair, if you can tell. When I had big hair and I was umpiring, people used to scream like, ‘Oh, you’d run so much faster if you’d cut that off!!’

Another umpire explained why changerooms were an ongoing issue for female umpires, saying: “It just seems to be particularly change rooms, the old stance of it’s a boy’s club and we’ll go and shower and walk out in a towel. That’s not acceptable under any circumstances, whether it’s young boys or young girls, it’s not okay. But trying to get it through to them that’s not okay and having to usher women or girls out of rooms all the time or kids out of rooms all the time because you’ve just walked out in a towel.”

The report indicates that the negative experiences of women and girls in umpiring is contributing to a shortage of officials across the sport on game days.

Eleni Glouftsis, the first female AFL field umpire, provided a statement in the foreword of the report, where she said she feels frustrated women and girls in umpiring roles are still experiencing the same obstacles she faced 16 years ago.

“In reading this research, I felt frustrated that girls and women in umpiring roles are still facing the same obstacles and challenges that I faced almost 16 years ago; I had hoped things would have improved. They certainly should have,” Glouftsis said.

“Throughout my umpiring journey I have faced and continue to face obstacles as a female in a traditionally male-dominated environment. While umpiring juniors through to state league level, I’ve worn uniforms that don’t fit, used change rooms that impose segregation and have had my ability to perform questioned due to my gender by spectators, players, coaches, the media, umpiring peers and umpiring coaches.”

Eleven recommendations are made in the report to create positive change at all levels of the sport, including education initiatives, better reporting tools for problematic incidents, inclusive change rooms, improving recruitment of female umpires, and the use of gender neutral language.

In response, the AFL said the findings of the report have formed the basis for a number of initiatives that have been included in the ‘Women and Girls Game Development Action Plan’, which is nearly completed.

“The initiatives in the plan are designed to increase representation of women and girls in all parts or our game from players to umpires to coaches and administrators and are aimed at ensuring a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for women and girls, including to lift the number of women umpires to 40%,” the AFL said.

“In order to achieve that growth, we will introduce a number of policy directives including developing and publishing the ‘Community football guiding principles for equity’, which will comprise 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.”

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox