Sue Way is delighted to have been chosen to umpire at the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Nah. ‘Delighted’ is too gentile.
She’s excited … thrilled … over the moon to be flying out on that big bird on 25th July, and spending 14 days in Leamington Spa alongside the best of the best umpires from around the world, umpiring the best of the best bowlers from around the world.
She’ll be joined by fellow Kiwi Wendy Suttie. They’ll be the only two umpires from New Zealand. There’s only 36 umpires in total and It’s the prerogative of the host country (in this case England) to provide the lion’s share. Even Australia’s only providing three.
“We’re not actually called ‘umpires’”, says Sue. “They refer to us as ‘technical officials’ – because we not only act as umpires, but as roving umpires and markers. To be honest, I’ve had to brush up on my marking to make sure it’s up to scratch! I’ll be training for 2 months in the lead-up to the Games.”
Umpiring (or technically officiating) at the top level is all about precision. And attention to the minutest detail. “As umpires, we’re notoriously tough on each other,” she says. “Even something like dropping the tape measure on the green can be viewed askance … much like if a bowler sent down a bowl with the wrong bias. You just can’t do it … and don’t do it.”
“That’s harder than it sounds.”
“We’re umpiring two to three rounds a day – both men’s and women’s. They rotate our duties. We could be one of the two standing umpires for each game, a marker, or a ‘roving’ umpire. The roving umpire is at the green temporarily standing in if an umpire needs to go to the loo, get a drink of water or whatever.”
“A lot of the time we’re standing still. But you need to be ready to go. Players don’t want to have to wait more than they have to for an umpire.”
“When marking, there’s a lot of pressure to call which bowl’s closer. Fortunately, I’ve never called it wrong over my career, but I’ve had some close calls! I’ve had to train myself to just ‘see it’. One of the
things I’ve found is that pink and yellow bowls look ‘bigger’ than other colours, and you need to take that into account!”
“Often it’s not about who’s closest, but how far a bowl is from the jack. The player may be asking if they can get under a bowl or they have to go around.”
“That can mean ‘hands’ (showing the distance by facing hands) or an estimated distance. Bear in mind that some countries talk in centimetres, and others in inches!”
While this is all going on, a Chief Umpire will be observing the umpires’ performance on the green.
“They’ll be marking us to determine who’ll be the umpires in the quarters, semis and finals.”
Sue will also need to watch her p’s and q’s off the green as well.
Unlike many other sports, lawn bowls is not burdened by the need to have neutral umpires (it would be cost-prohibitive in the day-to-day running of the sport anyway). So the umpires need to be fastidious in being seen to be neutral.
“We don’t stay in the games village … we stay in separate accommodation away from the players outside the village. When we’re umpiring, we don’t even clap .. we don’t want to show any preference. Even when we’re not umpiring, and just watching, we have to take off our umpire’s kit so we aren’t seen to be more interested in one performance than another.”
However, one thing that still remains a mystery to Sue is what the protocols for COVID will be over there. “I understand we’ll hear more towards the end of May. But at the moment I believe you can test positive for COVID in Britain and still toddle off to work. It’s hard to imagine that we could continue to umpire with COVID, but who knows!”
“At this stage, I don’t even know what the rules will be around mask-wearing, social distancing, and gathering sizes will be. Probably, the Games people themselves don’t know yet either. There’s still a lot can happen between now and Games kick-off.”
One of the other tasks that Sue will have at Leamington Spa is to keep her school kids up to date. Sue is the IT Director at Wellington Girls’ College, and the whole school will be behind her performance and eagerly awaiting diary details by zoom or email.
As will her fellow club members at Naenae Bowling Club.
And as will all us in the whole bowls community back here in New Zealand.
Good umpiring Sue!