Rugby Football Union (RFU) confirms that players and coaches abusing match officials will face longer bans.
The RFU Head of Judiciary, Richard Whittam KC, has issued guidance to all disciplinary panels that any instance of Match Official Abuse (MOA) will be subject to mandatory aggravation of any sanction by a set number of weeks depending on the level of the offence. The additional weeks will be applied to every level of the adult game.
Discipline statistics have shown that just under 20% of all cases in the game are related to MOA, and in a recent survey 49% of Match Officials stated that that they had been abused of disrespected in the last season.
David Barnes, head of discipline at the Rugby Football Union, said: "We've noticed in recent years, since coming out of Covid, that levels of abuse were at a level where we needed to take action.
"Whilst most people are very good and follow the RFU core values, there are unfortunately a few that feel like calling out the referees or making inappropriate comments is acceptable. But it's clearly not, so we felt it was time to increase our sanctions to remind people of what's expected.
"In terms of the referees themselves, 60% of them wanted the sanctions increased to help them and that's something we've responded too."
Rugby referee Wayne Barnes announced his retirement from refereeing following his appearance at the World Cup final last year. He said he received death threats after the game and added that he would “continue to advocate for referees and work closely with the International Rugby Match Officials’ association to ensure match officials across the globe not only have a collective voice but also the appropriate support network for them and their families, particularly as online abuse and threats have become far too regular for all of those involved in the game.”
His fellow Englishman Tom Foley announced he was taking a break from the game a month later, following a "torrent of abuse".
Fines, letters of apology and refereeing courses will still be available to disciplinary panels as they consider judgements.
Last season, former Exeter wing Jack Nowell was fined £10,000 and ordered to attend a refereeing course for criticising a referee on X.
The new punishments came into effect on 1 January. The full guidance can be found here.