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Jono Bredin calls time on netball umpiring

New Zealand’s top NZ netball umpire, Jono Bredin, is calling time on his 18-year domestic career when he blows his whistle for the last time in the ANZ Premiership Grand Final.

Among his many accomplishments, Bredin has officiated at three Commonwealth Games, two Netball World Cups, controlled 77 netball internationals, 107 trans-Tasman league matches, and was ANZ Championship umpire of the year two years running.

But now he says it’s time focus on the other important things in his life – being a father to son Nixon, his day job as an accountant and director of PKF in Dunedin, and a future as a top rugby referee.

But his ties to netball won’t be completely severed. He still has an important role to play in the future of the game internationally.

You’ve given so much to the game. Was this any easy decision to make?

I’ve made a heavy commitment of my time to netball umpiring over the past 18 years, and I want to be home more to spend time with my family. Nixon is coming up 17 months old, and he’s been travelling around the countryside this year with myself and Danielle as we’ve been umpiring (Jono’s partner Danielle Maulder is also a top umpire in the National Umpire Squad). That’s just added another complexity into the mix!

I have very fond memories of netball, and to finish on top was something I always said I would do. I’m leaving with positive memories that outweigh any challenges I had along the way. So the time is right for me.

Would you like to take your rugby refereeing to the same level?

I’m a member of the wider training group for New Zealand Rugby high performance referees, and I refereed our premier club final in Otago on the weekend. It’s reached the point where I need to give as much to that as I have to netball over the last 18 years. I want to have a decent crack at it.

I’m the sort of person who’s ambitious and will do the hard work, so I’m focusing on doing all I can to put my hand up. Who knows where it will lead?

You started umpiring netball when you were still at Gore High School. What got you involved?

I started when I was 15, and I’d played a little netball at primary and intermediate school. I’d always enjoyed the sport. Then I spotted an ad from local umpires wanting more people to pick up the whistle on the weekend. I was very lucky in Gore to have a number of experienced and caring people who took me under their wing ,and they’ve looked after me ever since!

Did you have any idea of how far you’d go?

Never in my wildest dreams, when I started out in 2000, did I think I would be umpiring a Commonwealth Games gold medal match in 2018.

Does it feel as though you have achieved all you could in netball?

To be honest, that sums it up quite nicely. Certainly the Commonwealth Games this year ticked off a huge item on my bucket list. If I reflect on all the matches I’ve been able to umpire over the years – including four ANZ Championship grand finals, and this year’s ANZ Premiership finals series – there is a huge element of having achieved all that I wanted to achieve. And that’s no disrespect to the sport.

It’s also time for me to move on do other things and let a new wave of umpires come through. If I can be involved in any way with helping that next level, I’m keen to help.

Is there any tournament you haven’t umpired in New Zealand?

I started my umpiring in the national squad in the last year of National Bank Cup, then I umpired 107 ANZ Championship matches, and then around 13 ANZ Premiership games. I’m one of only two umpires in the current national squad who has umpired in all three competitions. It makes me feel quite old, even though I’m only 33.

What have been the highlights in your umpiring career?

Certainly the biggest highlight was controlling the gold medal match at the Commonwealth Games this year. Not only because of the opportunity, but because it was such an awesome final. And it was an event that was a turning point in netball internationally, given that so many teams performed above where they have in the past.

And reflecting back on all of my domestic matches, umpiring the grand final of the 2016 ANZ Championship in Brisbane - which went to double extra-time and was the last championship ever played - was the hardest non-test match I’ve ever had to control.

You were also chair of Dunedin Netball until this year. Was that a rewarding tenure?

I stepped down from that position this year, after a decade on the board. It was rewarding because the future of netball in this country survives on a strong grassroots environment, and that’s where I started. Being able to add my high performance skills and experience was really important. During the course of my time as chair, we were only the second centre in New Zealand to celebrate their centenary, which was a special time.

Is umpiring in New Zealand in a healthy state?

Yes, we have some very talented umpires coming through the programme. But at the highest level, while we are compensated for our time to some degree, it’s very hard – you can’t make it your job. There’s always going to be challenges when it comes to the level of commitment required from officials who are ultimately controlling matches in a semi-professional environment.

At an international level, there is no form of payment for international matches. So the game is very reliant on the generosity of people’s families and employers. In today’s society, people’s free time is getting less and less. And that’s what I’ve found - juggling a fulltime job, having a family and doing two high performance sports.

How have you dealt with the flak and abuse that has unfortunately come with being a top umpire?

Umpires in any sport are only human. At the end of the day we’re always trying our best. One of the skills you develop is the ability to zone that stuff out. But you’d be kidding yourself if you said that from time to time, it doesn’t have an effect on you. It’s certainly a challenge from my level, right down to those who control the little kids’ games during the week.

There are a few keyboard warriors out there, who, if only they put their energy into turning up to a netball centre and learning the rules, and giving what we do a go, they would have an idea how we feel. While I don’t expect them to understand, I think it’s important as we look to keep our sport in a positive frame, that people need to recognise we can’t have elite sport without people umpiring it.

The challenge comes when you’re in the public eye and you have family – there’s an impact away from the court, from things that happened on court. It’s something I’ve become much more aware of. We don’t always get to make the decisions that are popular, but that’s what we’re there for.

Today’s players seem to have more interaction with umpires, approaching them during quarter breaks. How do you feel about that?

As an umpire I wished it happened more! At the end of the day, we don’t want to be penalising the same things for 60 minutes. If someone can ask us about it after 15, we can sort it out. I’d also rather have someone asking us during a break in a respectful way, rather than perhaps having a go at us during the game, in not such a respectful tone.

But this isn’t the end of your involvement in netball is it?

No, I’m still involved as a member of the International Netball Federation’s rules panel, which is responsible for the future shape of the rules. It’s a pretty cool group, where we have some robust discussions about how the game may look in the future.

That’s something I’m really passionate about. If there’s one thing I’ve been accused of, it’s being a stickler for the rules. I’m keen to see the game evolving, but it has to be in a way that’s attractive to all stakeholders in the sport, including those at home watching on TV.

We have to remember the game of netball is played throughout the world, not just in the elite leagues, and the rules need to be such that everyone can compete in a way that is safe.

What will you miss most?

It will be the people I’ve met over the years. Not only umpires, but people I’ve rubbed shoulders with that I normally wouldn’t have. I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie over the years.

And I think there’s always a buzz when you’re standing there before the match, and the game is about to start. I’ll certainly miss that from a netball context, but I’m sure I’ll get the same buzz at the start of a rugby match.