Lead­ing male um­pire re­veals sex­ism in net­ball: ‘Are you even qual­i­fied?’

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport Rugby Union - By Ben Bloom

The world’s lead­ing net­ball um­pire has re­vealed how he had to over­come crit­i­cism from play­ers who ques­tioned his cre­den­tials on the ba­sis that he was a man.

Gary Burgess, who will of­fi­ci­ate at the World Cup, which be­gins in Liver­pool on Fri­day, is considered the sport’s lead­ing um­pire, hav­ing taken charge of two World Cup fi­nals, two Com­mon­wealth Games fi­nals and 10 Su­perleague fi­nals.

But he told The Daily Tele­graph that he had to earn the re­spect of play­ers early in his ca­reer as they did not be­lieve a man was suf­fi­ciently qual­i­fied to of­fi­ci­ate a sport that is pre­dom­i­nantly played by women.

“I would turn up in the early days and peo­ple would ask me, ‘Are you even qual­i­fied?’” he said. “That ac­tu­ally con­tin­ued when I was one of the top national net­ball um­pires as well.

“I wasn’t as well known then as I am now, so I’d turn up to tour­na­ments and peo­ple would be like, ‘Do you even know what you’re doing?’ You can’t stop what peo­ple be­lieve and that bias.”

Burgess – who ini­tially wanted to be a hockey um­pire – took up net­ball of­fi­ci­at­ing while he was train­ing to be­come a PE teacher.

After 15 years juggling teach­ing with his um­pir­ing ca­reer, he took a sig­nif­i­cant pay cut three years ago to be­come Eng­land Net­ball’s head of of­fi­ci­at­ing. It was a bold de­ci­sion with two young daugh­ters to pro­vide for, but he says he could not refuse the “op­por­tu­nity to turn my pas­sion into my pro­fes­sion”.

In­deed, there is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion around fi­nances and net­ball of­fi­cials be­cause ev­ery national and in­ter­na­tional um­pire is fully vol­un­tary. Even at the World Cup, no um­pire will earn a penny be­yond ex­penses.

“You can pick up £20 doing lo­cal league games, but the higher you get, the less the money is,” Burgess said. “I sat on a panel with [for­mer football World Cup fi­nal ref­eree] Howard Webb once and he was telling me how much he gets paid with en­dorse­ments and it was around £250,000 a year.

“He asked me how much I got paid and I just said: ‘Noth­ing’. The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who um­pire at the high­est level are se­nior lead­ers in their work. You do bite the bul­let for the sport that you love.”

Burgess’s renown as an um­pire has led to un­ex­pected celebrity, and he is reg­u­larly stopped for self­ies by net­ball sup­port­ers. “In life I’m a no­body, but in net­ball I’m an A-lis­ter,” he joked.

But if he were to be in­el­i­gi­ble to um­pire next week’s fi­nal be­cause Eng­land are in it – as at the Com­mon­wealth Games – he in­sists he would be “de­lighted” to miss out.

“A gold medal means more to them than um­pir­ing in a fi­nal does to me,” he said.

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