Bill and Carol Alexander were volunteers. They’d given a combined 70 years of service to netball and looked to more happy and fulfilling times in the sport. Sadly, that plan came to an abrupt and shattering end when a complaint was made against them.

The Alexanders believe they were tossed aside by their governing body – their reputations left in tatters. They’ve never been made privy to the charge against them; the quest for answers and to clear their good names has been fruitless to date. Stymied of their civil rights, they have finally decided to be judged by the court of public opinion and have shared their story with Netball Scoop.

Volunteers are the life blood of any sport; the people who roll up their sleeves and get a job done. From the grass roots to the elite, they are the coaches, the umpires and administrators. The scorers and timers, the orange slicers and taxi drivers. They huddle in the pouring rain, turn out in the heat, and at the end of each season we applaud them, sincerely hoping they put their hand up again.

Sadly, our volunteers are also too often targets, lacking support or even sympathy. In the course of his umpiring duties, for example, Bill Alexander has been verbally and racially vilified, spat upon, had food thrown at him, and had his sexuality questioned for umpiring a “women’s” sport.

The husband-and-wife team are based in England. Bill became netball’s first male international umpire in 1992 and has worked at several World Cups, World Youth Cups, Commonwealth Games and a host of other test and domestic matches. He was the longest-serving international umpire tester, part of various umpiring appointment panels, has served on the England Netball board, as Chair of the South Region and was a member of the England Netball rules panels. He’s mentored umpires from the grass roots to the elite and been outspoken in garnering better support for those officials.

Carol has been equally tireless. She’s worked as a coach, A-grade umpire, administrator and mentor. She’s chaired groups at County level and worked as a bench official at a range of international tournaments and World Cups. Carol was the only English bench official selected to work at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and has gone on to train many umpires and technical officials.

Along the way the couple have been widely recognised for their contribution to netball. Carol received a United Kingdom award as Mentor of the Year, while Bill was made a Life Member of England Netball.

Minutes of England Netball board meetings in November 2016 and January 2017 record that an allegation was made against Bill and Carol Alexander. Reportedly, no further detail was given. Two board members hastily compiled a situation report, with the substance of it to remain suppressed. As a result, Bill and Carol were immediately asked to withdraw their membership from England Netball “in the interests of netball”. The vague statement gave them no clue as to their supposed wrong doing.

They were able to be blind-sided because changes were made to the England Netball constitution at the same November 2016 board meeting. Coincidental or not, Articles 25 and 26 were introduced at that meeting, allowing complaints and reports against individuals to remain secret.

In any court of law, a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The accused has the right to know charges levelled against them and to mount a defence against those charges. This is a basic civil right.

This has not been the case for Bill and Carol Alexander. Articles 25 and 26 ensure that they don’t know what they have been charged with and therefore are unable to defend or clear their good names. It has been like fighting a ghost.

While England Netball are confident that they’ve followed due process, the leap from the couples’ happy involvement in sport, to complete banishment, seems extreme. Bill reports that there could have been intermediary steps taken to deal with the situation, including mediation and a range of actions under disciplinary, safe-guarding, anti-bullying, harassment or whistle-blowing policies. According to Bill, none of these intermediate steps have been taken.

For the Alexanders, the fallout has been severe. They have been prevented from tutoring, assessing and carrying out their official duties. Carol has been unable to volunteer, as she usually does, at the Armed Inter Services Competition, while Bill was removed from working at the World Youth Cup in Botswana. Their future prospects in netball remain bleak.

Sport England has been investigating the situation. To date they have found that Articles 25 and 26 should be amended to include an appeal process to ensure natural justice and that England Netball should have provided details about the allegations, as the Alexanders had insufficient information to defend themselves.

To some, where there is smoke there is fire and until further information is released they will view the Alexanders as tarnished goods.

Bill is the first to admit that he has been an occasional thorn in the side of officialdom. He says that he has regularly questioned and fought for better working conditions for umpires, but has always done it in an appropriate manner. As Chair of the South Region, he has occasionally been involved with issues that spring to life in sporting organisations, but believes he has dealt with them in a professional manner. Those who know him state that he is a respected business person, who applied a business-like and rational approach to his netball duties.

Until this matter was raised, Carol had an unblemished career, with no official or unofficial complaints lodged against her. The couple believe that she is the innocent victim of an ongoing vendetta against her husband.

Unfortunately, the Alexanders are not the only people who have been through such a bitter experience. Others have declined to speak out publicly, but there is at least one legal matter pending against England Netball at this time.

It’s been a year since the complaint was first raised, and Bill and Carol are still unaware of the charges against them. To this day, the case remains shrouded in secrecy and anonymity. The couple have requested access to information via the Freedom of Information Act, but wheels are turning very slowly.

While it’s been an emotionally draining battle, Bill and Carol will keep fighting on. They would like their basic civil rights respected – to know the charge against them, to be innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, to be able to speak out and defend their good names.

There has been a groundswell of support for the Alexanders. Those who know them well and value their commitment to netball find it impossible to believe they have acted in a manner so improper that it could lead to their complete banishment from the sport.

Bill and Carol believe that they are owed an apology for the way in which the complaint has been handled. In addition, Bill believes that his wife is blameless in the whole messy affair and that justice would be served if she can return to her duties.

While England Netball will not give substance to the allegation against them, that seems an impossible dream.

England Netball were contacted in relation to this story but were unable to comment while the matter is ongoing.

The International Federation of Netball (INF) were unavailable for comment. Bill has recently resigned from his position as an International Tester due to their lack of support and governance in his situation.