There has been a lot – and I mean, a lot – of social media criticism about the umpiring at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London over the past couple of weeks. Generally speaking, the criticism has been reasonable and level-headed. What’s more, it comes with the territory. The umpiring team will be well used to it and will each have their own coping mechanism, the most simple of which is just to ignore it. I’m absolutely certain that not one of the umpires in London would be so arrogant as to claim that every decision she has made, on the pitch or in the video umpire box, has been correct. I’m equally sure that they will be perfectly happy to have their more contentious decisions analysed and discussed – not to mention used as learning tools for other umpires, as demonstrated by this excellent piece on the FIH website. There has, however, been some nasty, vituperative, personal stuff out there, often posted by people without the first clue about umpiring.
Now, please see this example of what can happen when an official is hounded beyond acceptable limits on social media. Please also bear in mind that it is generally accepted, by those in the know – the experts, if you will – that the decision made in this case was 100% correct: NRL referee quits over ‘vile abuse and death threats’.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that any of the criticism levelled at the World Cup umpires has been quite that appalling, not yet, anyway. But by establishing an environment in which criticism of officials, often at a personal level, and their decisions is actively sought and engaged with, are we complicit in allowing abuse to thrive? Is it right that every anonymous, ignorant know-it-all (to use a phrase employed on a well-known hockey discussion forum recently) feels entitled to criticise the work of someone who has spent literally thousands of hours to get themselves into the position that they’re in? To criticise performances delivered in an environment that they cannot even begin to understand? Is the desire to comment and criticise providing a seedbed for abuse?
I wonder how long it will be before the first international hockey umpire hangs up their whistle because of the abuse that they receive on social media? It will be beyond disgraceful if ever that day comes.