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The Year of the Official launch, MCG: speech.

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Speech by Senator Rod Kemp - Minister for the Arts and Sport

The Year of the Official Launch Senator Rod Kemp 10.30am, MCG, Tuesday 11 March 2003

(Check against delivery)

The Hon Justin Madden; Peter Bartels; Mark Peters; Wayne Jackson; Mick Malthouse; Michelle Timms - and of course Eddie Crouch .

May I say I am particularly delighted that Eddie is able to be here with us today. I was there to witness his last game between the Victorian Giants and Sydney Kings.

That game was Eddie's 802nd as an NBL referee - a truly remarkable achievement.

Also a special welcome to the CEOs of our national sporting organisations representing basketball, cricket, AFL, netball, soccer, rugby league and rugby union.

And a very big welcome to our Year of the Official ambassadors.

In a perfect world, none of us would need to be here today.

Of course, in an utterly imperfect world we wouldn't be here either, because none of us would care enough about our sporting future to recognise the need for action.

But here we are-and that is cause for gratitude and reason for hope.

The reason we are here today is that the number of officials is declining, right across the sporting spectrum.

Sports just aren't retaining officials.

Fewer people are choosing to become referees and umpires.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 1997 and 2001 there was a 26 per cent drop in the number of officials participating in sport-a frightening decline.

Something had to be done.

That is why the Federal Government, through the Australian Sports Commission, has decided to place increased emphasis on increasing the numbers of officials.

To heighten awareness of the issue and what can be done to turn the current trend around, 2003 has been designated The Year of the Official.

Over the course of this year there will be a nation-wide push to make Australians aware of the vital role officials play in keeping Australia's sporting clubs and competitions viable and vital-from the grass roots to the elite level.

There will be a concerted effort to not only attract officials in the first place, but keep them involved and active.

Some of you would have been involved in last year's Fair Go For Officials forums, run by the Australian Sports Commission.

Most of you would also be aware of the survey of national sporting organisations that was conducted in an attempt to get some baseline information about abuse.

We need to determine the line between acceptable behaviour, such as barracking, and unacceptable behaviour, such as personal insults.

And then we need to do something about it. We need to effect some change in the attitude people have towards officials.

The Sports Commission's survey of reported incidents of abuse shows that spectators are responsible for 38 per cent of the abuse directed at officials.

Another 37 per cent comes from the mouths of players, and 22 per cent from coaches.

Parents of players were responsible for 17 per cent of the abuse.

The trigger in most cases was the perceived incompetence or bias of officials. And yet, so often, there is no logic or real basis to this "one-eyed" spectator anger.

More than 95 per cent of the reported abusive incidents were verbal. And interestingly, the vast majority of reported abuse seems to occur at grass-roots events.

The Sports Commission, in association with a reference group of high-profile national sporting organisations including cricket, AFL, basketball, netball, soccer, rugby league and rugby union (all of which are represented here today) has developed a number of strategies aimed at keeping officials keen, involved and satisfied.

The Government expects that all national sporting organisations will eventually implement these strategies.

Some of the initiatives address the behaviour and competencies of people within sport who allegedly contribute to the harassment and abuse of officials.

Others involve public awareness programs to be undertaken by the Sports Commission in cooperation with state departments of sport and recreation, and

national sporting organisations.

The aim is to help bring about a shift in cultural attitudes. We want people to understand that giving officials a hard time is simply not the Australian way.

Cultural change takes time. The Year of the Official is not the end of the journey, but the beginning.

I want to congratulate national sporting organisations for helping develop strategies to start the change process within their own sports - and state departments of sport and recreation for their role in helping to implement these strategies.

And I want to also thank for their interest the members of the media who are here this morning. Your capacity to set the public agenda and help shape attitudes and behaviours is very important.

You know how deeply Australian sport relies on the volunteers who make up the vast bulk of this country's sporting officials. And you can help make Australians believe that abuse of these officials is simply not on.

I would also like to take this opportunity to announce an Australian Sports Commission initiative as part of The Year of the Official.

The Commission is in the process of initiating long-term research that will help sports recruit, train and retain officials.

On the surface, the job of a sporting official is fairly straightforward. Their job is to see that a contest is played safely, by the rules, and according to the spirit of the rules.

It doesn't take much imagination to know that it is all a little bit more complicated in practice.

Split-second decisions must be made, often under great pressure. And officials-like players, coaches, spectators and the watching media-are only human. Mistakes will be made.

With appropriate education, training and support we can keep these mistakes to a minimum and boost the professionalism of our officials across the board.

And if we educate the public at the same time, I am confident that the incidence of harassment and abuse levelled at officials will decline - and help increase the numbers of officials.

That's what this year is all about.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to officially declare 2003 as The Year of the Official.

Thank you.