Gary Burgess was always going to take the year off of umpiring, but little did he expect to only miss three matches as the world moved online.

With no elite netball in the United Kingdom for much of 2020, England Netball Head of Officiating, and one of the world’s best umpires, Gary Burgess’ on-court ‘year off’ was certainly no break.

The England Netball Hall of Famer planned to put his whistle down and focus on his off-court role for 2020. In the end, he missed just three Vitality Netball Superleague rounds.

Despite this, Burgess said there was plenty of work to do throughout 2020 as netball in the United Kingdom banded together in the face of COVID-19.

“We absolutely cannot underestimate the work that has been done in such a short space of time. During COVID-19 we’ve had to accomplish things that have taken 10-15 years in places like Australia with full broadcast exposure – for us it was shoehorned into six months,” he said of the return of Superleague with all matches played live from two centralised hubs.

“Like the school production – outwardly it looks fine, but there are cracks… and there are the legs behind the scenes moving at 10 to a dozen. And [with the return of elite netball] the tonic we all feel going into some normality is shared out across the netball family.”

Like the players, the United Kingdom’s best umpires were left without on-court experiences for much of the year.

So the direction was simple – keep fit.

Burgess said the directive to the group was simple – keep fit.

“It was pretty bleak for us for a large part of the year. Umpires weren’t able to do anything until about July last year and the instruction was to keep fit while they couldn’t be on court,” he told The Inner Sanctum.

“Since teams started training in September, we’ve had umpires go into those matches. But also, we had to pivot some of the work we’ve been doing.

“The pure shoehorning of people into the virtual world meant we could get camps done virtually. And now we’re working through courses to pilot external offers for officiating.

“It has broken ground. This does mean there is no turning back.”

Gary Burgess is one of the world’s most recognisable umpires with two Commonwealth Games Gold Medal matches, three world cup finals, 11 Superleague grand finals, and more than 100 international caps to his name.

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