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Trailblazing academic takes out major umpiring prize

25 September 2018
Academic by day, umpire by night
University of Sydney Education academic Dr Victoria Rawlings has been named the Sydney AFL Umpire of the Year, the first female umpire to take home the title.
Dr Victoria Rawlings, education academic and umpire

Dr Victoria Rawlings, education academic and AFL umpire.

“I feel incredibly humbled to receive the award. I’ve put more into this season of umpiring than I have in any other year,” Victoria said.

The Sydney School of Education and Social Work Academic Fellow has continually made history throughout her 10-year career as an umpire.

As a member of the AFL’s National Female Umpiring Academy, she was the first female Sydneysider and the second woman to officiate as a field umpire in a NEAFL (North East Australian Football League) game.

“We are very proud of Dr Victoria Rawlings’ success as an AFL umpire,” said Professor Annamarie Jagose, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“At the heart of umpiring is the exercise of good judgment under pressure. Victoria’s ability to manage her academic alongside her sporting commitments make her a role model for both her students and her colleagues.”

Away from the field, Victoria’s academic research focuses on the relationships between gender, sexuality, youth and social structures, particularly in relation to the ways that traditional concepts of 'bullying' fail to address violence in schools.

She finds her research connects with her experience as a female umpire.

“It can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, young people can see a pathway in football apart from just playing, which is excellent as it provides a new perspective,” she said.

“At the same time, being noticed as a female umpire creates more pressure to perform as it can foster gender-specific doubt in my capabilities.

“There are times that sexism rears its head from players, coaches or crowd members, which is something that only female umpires face. I’m lucky to be well supported by my umpires and coaches when this happens.”

Dr Victoria Rawlings umpiring.

Dr Victoria Rawlings in action.

Academia and AFL

“Working in education with a focus on gender provides me with a lot of perspective about the experiences I have umpiring,” she said.

“I’m able to take a critical lens to moments of inequality, exclusion and discrimination, which are thankfully less and less common as time goes on, to analyse the structural and cultural iniquities that are at play.”

“I also find that my experiences at umpiring enhance my teaching. I’m able to talk through metaphors and examples to explain theoretical concepts in different ways, which are beneficial to students.”

Keeping both balls in the air

“So far, I’ve managed to make my double-life work, although sometimes it does feel like I work two jobs,” Victoria said.

“I’m incredibly lucky to have supportive colleagues at the University of Sydney who understand that sometimes I need to miss events or meetings due to football commitments. Equally, my coaches and team mates at umpiring respect that I sometimes need to miss training sessions or games due to work.”

And her award is recognition of great things to come: “It’s an incredible reward which will motivate me to keep running and pushing for improvement over summer and into the AFLW season. My love of being involved in the game keeps me persevering.”

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