World Rugby have passed dossiers of evidence to law-enforcement and government agencies in relation to the abuse directed towards referees during this year’s Rugby World Cup.
World Rugby’s findings relate to abuse aimed at any player or referee who took part in the World Cup and received abuse from social media such as Instagram or X, formerly Twitter. They said the aim was not to prohibit the debate around referee decisions or player performance but to ensure that any abuse that crosses that line is punished.
The announcement comes after World Cup final referee Wayne Barnes announced that would be his last match as an official due to the amount of abuse that he has received with both himself and his wife receiving death threats on social media. Barnes said “I will 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.”
A World Rugby spokesperson said “As confirmed prior to Rugby World Cup 2023, World Rugby does not publicly comment on match official decisions. We stand by our match official team, who perform one of the hardest jobs in professional sport to an exceptional standard. As we have seen in recent months, sadly, criticism of match officials can have wide-ranging consequences, including online hate and threats, and we must be mindful of such a human impact.”
Individuals have previously received social media bans for their online abuse aimed at sporting personnel but there has yet to be a criminal conviction.