A leaked report commissioned by the AFL has revealed complaints made by girls and women in football umpiring who allegedly experienced sexual harassment from spectators, umpire coaches and fellow umpires.

Girls and women interviewed for the study – undertaken by the University of Sydney between late 2020 and early 2021 – said they had experienced discrimination through gender-based harassment.

There were also instances of racial vilification reported.

Some participants said they questioned their involvement in umpiring because of the alleged abuse, according to the report which was published in August, but only made public by News Corp on Monday.

The report – titled Girls and women in Australian football umpiring: Understanding registration, participation and retention – was based on the accounts of 26 current and former women umpires and one non-binary umpire across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and ACT.

Those who took part did so in the hope their experiences “may positively influence the game that they love”, the report said.

“Beyond that, many expressed hope that their participation in this project might make a difference to the girls, women and other minorities that umpire in the future.”

The report was commissioned by the AFL to better understand the low take-up numbers of women and girls in umpiring, which contrasts with the exponential rise in participation in women’s footy.

The league said in a statement in response to the News Corp report: “The report has been a valuable resource for our team in prioritising the key initiatives to accelerate the growth in women and girls taking on umpiring roles across the country and ensuring we have a safe and welcoming pathway that allows women and girls to progress from community to AFL and AFLW level.”

The report included claims of unsolicited sexual images being sent to umpires, women and girls receiving sexualised comments from spectators and fellow umpires, and repetitive unwelcome approaches from fellow umpires and umpires coaches.

One umpire was quoted in the report as saying: “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. That’s what made me quit.”

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?’”

The AFL said the findings from 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 in its final stages of completion.

“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.


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