Elite umpires in Hawke's Bay last night refused to officiate in Napier after an impasse with the region's parent body, Eastern Netball.
A second-tier group of officials took the court in the Hastings Pak'N Save Hawke's Bay Premier League play-offs at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, to avoid suspending matches.
The eight New Zealand badge holders declined to control the games because they were unhappy with the way Eastern handled matters arising from the disciplining of a Physique player who allegedly abused the umpires in a game a fortnight ago before a member of the team's management also (allegedly) abused a third official on the sideline.
Only one umpire, Tony Gardiner, who officiated last night was a New Zealand badge holder amid concerns from protagonists that the top umpires should control the top games.
Gardiner, who is affiliated with Manawatu netball, is also the second division coach of Physique.
The top umpires in the province are Fiona Horne, of Napier, and Philippa "Pip" Castles, of Hastings, but an umpire from Manawatu had answered Eastern's SOS.
Top seeds Speights Ale House Otane Force were playing Hastings High School Old Girls' Huias (HHSOG Huias) while Workout Studio Havelock North Kauri were playing Physique.
The four teams were informed early yesterday afternoon their games at 8pm would go ahead after the B finals at 6pm.
Eastern Netball regional manager Karen Greenslade, who was confident the back-up umpires would turn up and was in the initial umpiring roster for a premier game, declined to comment on the case but confirmed there was a dispute with umpires.
"My board has advised me not to talk about it," said Greenslade, who is heading a drive to ensure the Hastings and Napier centres will merge with Central Hawke's Bay and Wairoa in a new New Zealand Netball vision to have regions playing under their ANZ Championship franchise umbrellas from later this year.
That means Eastern Netball will become defunct and Gisborne and East Coast will no longer be part of this region's catchment area.
"All the umpires tonight are in the current premier league," she said.
However, a Physique team spokeswoman yesterday said the umpires' dispute was unrelated to the disciplining of their player who was sin-binned for two goals and, after a judicial hearing, stood down for a game last Wednesday night.
"Yes, the players asked a question and it wasn't part of the protocol for her to do that," she said, adding the umpires' dispute was due to dissatisfaction with the board.
"It has nothing to do with the club, the player and the stand-down."
The Physique spokeswoman, who felt their club should not be named at all, said they had no qualms with the standing down of their player and the club had fulfilled its requirements.
But a senior umpire last night said their grievances stemmed from the player's verbal abuse at the game.
"That player has been doing it all season," the umpire said, adding other elite umpires didn't want to officiate in games involving Physique.
Eastern had been dealing with the issue in June and had instructed the umpires to "deal with it" on the court after an attempt to mediate off court with the player didn't stop the behaviour.
The umpires, who have requested a meeting with Eastern at 4pm today, are happy with the judicial committee meting out punishment to the Physique player.
"What Eastern didn't do is tell the umpires the player was suspended," the umpire said, adding the suspended player was sitting on the bench with her team last Wednesday night when she had "no privileges".
The netball rules only allow for 12 players and five management staff to be on the bench during games.
"Our other issue is with Eastern reprimanding our third official for doing her job," the umpire said, adding they often didn't use a third official because of a shortage of whistle blowers but were entitled to when the need arose.
"We did everything according to the laws and we have the backing of New Zealand Netball."
The umpire said a member of the team's management staff had got involved, abusing the third official who was simply doing her job with the judicial committee clearly stating the third official case had no bearing on the disciplinary case.
"We just want a retraction and apology from Eastern on the third umpire.
"No umpire at any level deserves that sort of treatment from players and management on the court. For that matter, no human being should be treated like that."
They were also satisfied the judicial committee had warned the offending member of the management on the bench for getting involved with the incident.
The protesting elite umpires, the official said, ensured they didn't put any pressure on their fellow second-tier umpires not to control any games last night because some of them had obligations to the code outside officiating and they didn't want them to jeopardise that.
In last night's semifinals, defending champions Otane crushed Huias 52-35.
That means Otane will sit out the next round next Wednesday while Huias play Physique, who beat Kauri 44-40 in the other semifinal.
Chris Leppien shot 85 per cent and Jess Bird 75 per cent for Otane while Ali Bird registered 78 per cent for Huias.