Chris Kamolins: A veteran AFL umpire makes big career move

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Australian Rules Football is one of the country’s biggest spectator sports. It is unique because it’s a played in an oval-shaped field with an oval-shaped ball, requiring players to have good hand and eye coordination, and includes a combination of rules from various football codes, including soccer.

And rather than referee who is responsible to adjudicate the game, the officials of this unique sport are called umpires. The umpiring role is always not an easy one. It is extremely demanding both physically and mentally and unlike players, umpires stay on the field for the entire match. Interestingly, the years of training, discipline and extreme commitment and effort umpires give, it is not a full-time role, with many umpires working day jobs during the week, and officiating on the weekends.

Knowing that umpiring might not be a long term career, Chris Kamolins - an experienced umpire since 1990 - made a decision to leave the football world upon the completion of his 207th game. He accepted an opportunity presented by Fisher and Paykel Healthcare – a large medical company he has worked with for 11 years– and moved to Bangalore, India to take up the role as General Manager overseeing the entire Indian and Sri Lankan operations.

Chris shared with Advance about his big career move.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications Officer, Advance

What made you choose to pursue an umpiring career in footy? Was there any particular reason the role was not a full-time position?

I grew up in Melbourne where nearly everyone follows AFL. I played football as a junior, but took up officiating in my teenage years, after progressing through the ranks quickly I gave away the playing.

There has been much debate as to whether AFL umpiring should be full time. I feel I was lucky to have the best of both worlds - Field Umpiring AFL and then having a ‘normal’ job during the week. Albeit my umpiring became part time in my final few seasons due to the demands of the sport, kept me rounded as a person.

What's the most challenging part being an umpire?

Believe it or not it is NOT the public criticism. It is the internal expectations to be accurate with decision making as well as being fit enough to cover 14-15 kilometres per game.

Which match was your most memorable umpiring experience?

I was very fortunate through my career to have the chance umpiring at the professional level for 13 years. ANZAC Day matches were quite memorable at the MCG, some of my favourites included a game in Wellington and an exhibition game at the Oval in London.

Being up close with the best view of some of the champions of the game is something you reflect more on post-career, seeing an old highlight come on TV and being able to recount being there live only meters from it is pretty special.

Can you share some fun facts about umpires or footy?

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Many people ask me if the players would abuse us on the field. It was very rare to be abused, there is plenty of banter on the ground, but mostly comments are either in jest or a player is feeling a little frustrated.

Some of our pre-season camps were spent learning off the best officials from other sports. I was very fortunate to spend time in the USA with the NBA/NFL/NHL/MLS, UK with the EPL/ECB, training camps in France and Spain, they were some phenomenal trips with backroom access that money couldn’t buy.

Leaving footy on your 207th game, what triggered the decision?

It was purely a work related decision. I have worked for a company called Fisher and Paykel Healthcare for 11 years, and due to AFL commitments I was never able to accept or pursue any roles out of the Australia. I knew my umpiring career couldn’t go on for ever and didn’t want to let too many more work opportunities pass me by. I have no regrets with the decision and still catch the occasional bit of AFL on Indian Cable TV.

Can you describe what you do in your new role at Fisher and Paykel Healthcare in Bangalore?

My current role is General Manager for Fisher and Paykel Healthcare India and Sri Lanka, based in Bangalore, India. I am the first expat to take on such a role in India to oversee the entire Indian and Sri Lankan operations. Both countries have such a rich, diverse culture  when compared to Australia which certainly adds another level of challenge to the role. It is satisfying to be able to assist in the personal and collective growth of our team.

How's your experience in Bangalore so far?

It has been amazing, I started travelling up to India immediately following the 2017 AFL season, and after a few months, I had accepted the full time role and subsequently retired from AFL.  In India, all of your senses will be challenged and no two days are the same at work. My family have adjusted well, my wife and three children have really embraced the different lifestyle.