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WSR catches up with International Umpire Gary Burgress



The eyes of the netballing world turned to Sydney this week, with the start of the Netball World Cup.  While the opening round of matches got under way, Womensportreport.com caught up with English international umpire Gary Burgess to find out why he got involved in the game, and find out how he made it to the top of the umpiring ranks.


When did you start umpiring and why?  


I started umpiring in 1999. Whilst at University studying sport we were encouraged to broaden our sporting knowledge by diversifying into female sports and those with traditionally low male representation. Luckily I was studying in Bedfordshire in the UK, which has always been an area that has produced really outstanding umpires.  I guess I was in the right place at the right time! 

How did you reach international level?


Bedfordshire Netball gave me a great deal of support when I was starting out, and I progressed through the umpiring levels quite quickly.  England Netball’s umpire development team really pushed me, and gave me opportunities to improve.  In 2009 I was lucky enough to be selected to the Under 21 World Cup in the Cook Islands and it was there that I was awarded with my IUA - International Umpires Award.


In terms of international competitions, which ones have you been involved with, and which match was your favourite, if it’s possible to pick just one?


This will be my second World Championships having previously umpired at the 2011 Championships in Singapore and I was also appointed to officiate at the 2011 and 2015 Commonwealth Games.   I have been lucky to have been appointed to the Final at each of these Championships – a huge honour!


I have umpired some really memorable matches, but I think my favourite has to be the 2010 Commonwealth Games Final in Delhi, which most people cite as the best netball game of all time. Australia and New Zealand fought it out with a display of the most amazing skills the world has ever seen!   Over the course of the match the lead changed on numerous occasions and at full time the score was level. This lead to extra time but even after this there was still no victor so it went on to sudden death.  Time and again, the lead switched between the two teams but it took an additional ten minutes, New Zealand finally sealed the match with the required two point lead. It was such a privilege to be part of such a spectacle but one which was not only it was also great for netball but for women's sport as a whole.


Netball's traditionally a women’s sport - did people make comments when you were on your way up, or now?

I have always been very lucky to be accepted into the netball fraternity and haven't experienced any prejudice.  With the games I have umpired both domestically and internationally I have gained the respect of many of the sports leading names.   I am always aware that you are only as good as your last game so with this in mind I treat every match I umpire with the same respect. This could be a division six local league game or indeed the World Cup Final.  Teams deserve my best, and that’s what I give them.

What's been the worst bit of getting to the top?


Certainly a new development in my life has meant I am going to be experiencing the toughest challenge of my umpiring career during the Sydney competition.   I have recently become a father and leaving my daughter Livvy behind has been one of the hardest things I have had to do. In the past, my wife has travelled with me but leaving both of my 'girls' behind has been very tough indeed.


Does being a man pose any problems when it comes to umpiring?


As I mentioned, netball has done well to accommodate male participants in both coaching and umpiring roles.   I have never experienced the same gender inequalities that appear with female officials in perhaps rugby or football.   I have worked previously with Janie Frampton who was able to share her insight from football which showed me how lucky I was in Netball.  As far as clothing is concerned, I have been able to wear tennis or other sports kit, and there are now dedicated ranges for umpires which accommodate both men and women.  I have also been working with a supplier in the UK to create a new range of umpires clothing which has been very successful (check out TeamWhiteGB on Facebook – shameless plug, for which apologies!).

How do you fit umpiring internationally in around your job?


It's a tough balance but one I have been able to manage with the support from my Principal. I am an Assistant VP of a large high school in Norfolk.   Luckily for me, the Netball World Cup is always scheduled in August now which falls into the main summer holiday, meaning I am able to travel freely without impacting on my professional life. This inevitably comes with its pitfalls as this is the time I would spend the most amount of time with my family.  I can see lots of family holidays in the future with a netball undertone!


How have you prepared for the World Cup?  


I have been training hard for the World Cup to ensure I am as fit as possible. Over the course of the Championships you can expect to umpire a lot of games each day which can take its toll on your body. Being as fit as you can will ensure that your mental focus is always sharp as it is often this that will get you to where you need to be, when you need to be.


Gary will be in action throughout the World Championships.  For all the latest news and match reports, please visit www.nwc2015.com.au


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