Former AFL footballer and now AFL Victoria Multicultural Engagement Coordinator David Rodan is set to add another job title to his career when he makes his goal umpiring debut in the AFL this weekend. Mitch Wynd reports
Unlike other AFL debuts, Rodan’s holds great significance in the AFL’s rich history as he becomes the first former AFL player to goal umpire at the elite level.
Set to swap the football boots for the bright green umpires’ uniform on Sunday ahead of the Round 16 game between North Melbourne and Fremantle at Etihad Stadium, the Fijian product says it will be like a second AFL debut for him.
“It’ll be very different in a way, but when I got the news, straight away I got those butterflies in the stomach again knowing that I’ll be umpiring,” he said.
“It is that type of feeling that it’ll be my first game again, even though I’m retired and on the other side of the boundary line, which is quite a funny feeling.”
In his role at AFL Victoria, Rodan works to try and deliver the game of Australian rules football to multicultural communities across the state and encourage participation and inclusion amongst new arrivals to the country.
While there is a strong focus on improving playing participation in the game, Rodan hopes that his story can encourage more multicultural umpires to try and reach the AFL.
“I felt there was a massive opportunity here – especially for new people that are coming to our game, integrating into Australia.
“I think there’s no better way to integrate into society, especially in Victoria, than by getting involved in Australian football.
“Umpiring allows you to learn the game and get know the rules, as well as getting paid for it so it’s a great introduction for new participants into our national sport that’s for sure,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there’s nobody in the AFL umpiring section with a diverse background that multicultural communities can relate to at the moment. So hopefully by me doing it, we can trigger some real buzz and excitement about it and hopefully I can hitch a few games together and increase that genuine excitement in the community.”
Rodan’s journey from player to umpire has been some time in the making, yet in his eyes it has progressed quicker than expected.
“I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half now. I started in local footy in the Essendon District Football League, and then slowly worked my way up to the TAC Cup and then VFL Reserves, and then VFL for the last six months. Things have progressed really quickly, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I thought, coming from a playing background.”
Seeing the impact made by female AFL umpires Eleni Glouftsis and Chelsea Roffey inspires Rodan that he can be a similar figure for young multicultural people to try and follow.
“Eleni and Chelsea are a couple of outstanding role models for the next generation of female umpires and I guess that’s all I’m trying to be – someone that multicultural people can see, and if they can see that, they can look to achieve it as well.”
As well as multicultural communities, Rodan hopes to encourage former players to pursue umpiring as a way to stay involved in the game when their playing days are over.
“I think it’s definitely an avenue that players can quickly slot into. I’m a bit surprised why there hasn’t been more, and I’m not just talking about the past retired players that everybody thinks about, the 30 to 32-year-olds. Even the players who get discarded and delisted at 22 or 23 which happens very often, there’s another opportunity for them as well.”
Rodan is looking forward to bringing his family to watch his ‘second debut’ on Sunday, and knows it will be a different experience for them too.
“I’m looking forward to bringing them into the rooms before the game, a bit of a different experience,” he said.
“I’m used to running out with the kids through the banners for my 100th and 150th game, so it will be great to get them in some fluoro green this time around.”