Sport

Rugby referee Wayne Barnes is fighting social media abuse in new documentary ‘Whistleblowers’

Rugby referee Wayne Barnes has lifted the lid on the social media abuse he suffered following the Rugby World Cup final last year. 

Speaking in a new documentary, Whistleblowers, the 44-year-old from the Forest of Dean read through messages sent to him and his wife, several of which were graphic. 

Barnes retired from refereeing five days after being in the middle as South Africa won their fourth World Cup against New Zealand. 

He said: “We all came back after being away for eight weeks and there is a lot of online abuse starting.  

 “That becomes part of the life of a referee, it would be great to be able to show them the harm it does to a family.  

 “You talk to ex-players and you ask is there is any chance of you getting involved?  

“And they are like we know you are away from home a lot and we know that you get a load of abuse on social media and in the press.  

“So explain to me why we want to take up this role? 

“But having said that, when you get into this environment, you realise they are an exceptional group and you make friends for life.” 

The barrister who refereed for 29 years, becoming a professional referee in 2005, gave a frank look into the realities for top-level referees. 

“Wayne Barnes, I hope your whole family dies in a house fire,” read one message. 

Another said: “Waynes Barnes is a corrupt ref.” 

Barnes read out another that said: “We are going to slit your throat.” 

Alongside appearing in the documentary which followed international referees at the Rugby World Cup in France last year, Barnes has shown his support for World Rugby’s plan to tackle abuse. 

The governing body has become the first international sporting organisation to successfully prosecute individuals for online hate directed towards match officials following the World Cup final. 

This came after partnering with ethical data science company Signify Group who monitored over 900 social media accounts during the tournament. 

Signify Group’s Threat Matrix service found that Barnes received one third of all abuse that they recorded, with match officials receiving 49 per cent of the social media abuse. 

Barnes added: “Those who abuse or threaten players, match officials or their families must realise there will be consequences for their actions.  

“It is great to see World Rugby leading the way and seeing the first charges being made against those individuals who send such appalling messages.  

“There is simply no place for that behaviour in rugby, in sport or in society.” 

Barnes refereed his first World Cup final in his 111th and final Test match, alongside assistant referees Karl Dickson and Matthew Carley. 

The television match official for the showpiece was Tom Foley, who announced in December he was stepping back from international officiating for the foreseeable future. 

Speaking in the documentary, which is available to watch for free at RugbyPass, Foley said: “TMO is the job that nobody wants to do, you ask any of the guys out there, they will say that none of them want to do it.  

 “By its very nature you are going to be involved in the big decisions.” 

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