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Death threats after World Cup final force referee to stand down from Test rugby

By Josh Raisey
Referee, Tom Foley checks a video replay during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Gloucester and Newcastle Falcons at Kingsholm Stadium on April 24, 2021 in Gloucester, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Referee Tom Foley has announced that he has stepped down from officiating international rugby following the online abuse he received after the World Cup final.

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The Englishman was the television match official (TMO) for South Africa’s 12-11 win over the All Blacks in Paris at the end of October and has since spoken out about the death threats he received in the wake of the final. This came following a contest which contained three yellow cards and the first ever World Cup final red card shown to All Blacks captain Sam Cane.

Foley follows the final’s match referee Wayne Barnes in retiring, although Barnes has ended his career entirely. Foley will now just officiate in the Gallagher Premiership.

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Foley said: “Having reached the pinnacle in officiating at the Rugby World Cup Final, now feels the right time to take a break from the international game. Over the course of 13 years, I have been fortunate to officiate alongside many dedicated professionals and be involved in some of the greatest games in international rugby.

“However, the pressure and scrutiny I came under after the Rugby World Cup Final, along with a torrent of criticism and abuse online, has helped to reaffirm that this is the right decision for me at this point in my life. While it’s a privilege to be at the heart of some of the sport’s most iconic moments, the increasing levels of vitriol, when the demands and expectation are so high, have led me to this moment.

“Working as an international match official takes you away from home for extended periods, and I am looking forward to spending more time at home with my young children. I am very grateful to my family for their support during my career; without them none of it would have been possible.”

Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO, said: “I would like to thank Tom for his outstanding contribution to international officiating. Tom has officiated in 48 games internationally and is considered one of the best Television Match Officials globally.

“The abuse he has suffered since the Rugby World Cup Final, along with other officials involved in that game, is totally unacceptable and no one should be treated in this way, doing their job for the sport they are so committed to and passionate about.

“We will do everything possible to help guard against the abuse aimed at match officials and players and would urge everyone in our game to consider the role they can play in upholding rugby values.

“Although Tom steps back from Test officiating, we are pleased that he will remain part of the RFU Professional Game Match Officials Group, and that the sport will continue to benefit from his extensive experience domestically.”

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Comments

71 Comments
D
Donald 214 days ago

By the way, isn’t this headline somewhat misleading, subjective?

I mean, who ‘forced’ the officials to step down? Who put a gun to their heads to do the job in the 1st place?

A whiff of grapeshot? Sticks & stones?

If the officials had had a bit more ownership, gumption, couldn’t they have weathered this ‘abuse’ storm in a teacup?

What ever happened to the stiff upper lip?

Oh, is that it, going whinging, whining to Stephen Jones of The S Times (are The AB’s his main, only job lifeline?) & The GB&R?

D
Donald 214 days ago

If Foley, Barnes had done their jobs properly, particularly in the WC final, would they have not collaborated in bringing abuse upon themselves, their families?

It’s the world they, we live in, with media platforms, governments doing next to nothing to curtail said abuse. Too much dosh, too many click bites? Ask yourselves.

Knowing this however, shouldn’t the 2 aforementioned officials have shouldered their share of responsibility, stop whining & attempting to pass the whole abuse buck into touch?

The heat in the kitchen?

Shades of Boris, Hancock, etc?

R
Red and White Dynamight 226 days ago

Sth Africans laud The Waterboy, the chief whinger extraordinaire. They worship him for his obstinance. The way he ‘accidentally’ leaked his video whinges. How they celebrated at the cherry picked editing. Then they roared again when he ignored his subsequent ban only to re-brand himself as an on-field assistant. How long did they lynch that Kiwi ref after 2011 ? Cheating, its the Sth African way. Gold watches for the ref anyone ? ask Louis, he’s still handing them out willy nilly since ‘95. And then the boetie bleaters turn up online as some self-appointed adjudicator of rugby’s moral code.

A
Another 227 days ago

There appears to be an ongoing conflation between death threats from anonymous online trolls and legitimate criticism of the match officials.

Obviously, online trolls of that nature are contemptible and should be punished but they are difficult to catch because they are difficult to identify. They don’t represent anything other than a tiny minority of unhinged individuals.

This does not conflate with other people who are easy to identify, like entire populations of people, or people who make their own commentary on record. You may disagree with their criticism, but they are doing nothing wrong in making it like anybody else.

Without putting blame on any individual, I think it is fair to say that the officiating in the 2023 WC was problematic and led to a series of questionable actions being made that did affect significant matches.

J
Jonathan 227 days ago

This is Toxic and I bet you “Nigel” is lilkely one of the guys making the threats - Disgusting

G
Gert 227 days ago

NZ landers still defending their wrong actions. Lost all my respect. Always thought the Aussies and Poms did not have sportsmanship. Nz, you should be ashamed of your people. Becoming an embarrassment with the way you defend everything. Grow up Nz.

M
MattJH 228 days ago

Harden up, Tom.

B
Bob 228 days ago

Surely the commentators that have enabled a backlash against the match officials should be held accountable. The one’s that after the World Cup final went our of their way to criticize and question the decisions of impartial match officials. The same match officials that the previous weeks officiated in matches that the NZ team won - no complaints them.

John Kirwan in particular - I watched his talk show after the final - what an embarrasment - he was appointed an Officer of NZ Order of Merit for services to mental health but then he and Wilson unloads on the match officials after every match questioning decision and integrity of the officails.

This I believe in no small way contributed to the game losing two top class match officials after doing their job.
The death threats and harassment from NZ fans, fueled by their commentators wanting to exact revenge for a loss is the problem here. Will Kirwan and Wilson apologize to Barnes and Foley for their actions?
Shame on you John Kirwan.

R
Red and White Dynamight 228 days ago

The 'allegation of “death threats” appear nowhere on record by either the ref Foley or in the official RFU statement. However it does form 100% of this article’s heading. Surely not another example of media chasing headlines and click bait. No ref deserves abuse online or otherwise. Every professional deserves scrutiny however. Barnes is an excellent ref. Foley will not be missed. They both got decisions right and wrong. As do the governing body and rule makers. The Final was a disgrace, the nadir of the slow killing of our game - 50/50 technical calls deciding the result; constant scrum resets; TMO (or bunker ?) encroaching beyond their mandate to find errors; YC/RC’s for unintentional non-malicious ‘foul play’; 1 team playing without the ball (and out-scored in tries by 14 men) and playing for penalties. The ref here - and all refs - are doing their best. It is WR that should bow their heads in shame. What the game needs is not another SH team winning the Webb Ellis but rather the chokerhold of NH officials running WR and ruining our beautiful game. Time for Beaumont and all his gin-swilling mates in London and Dublin to step down and hand the reins to someone who can return the game to the players and fans. Augustin Pichot, the time is NOW.

C
Cameron 228 days ago

Imagine destroying the grand final of the World Cup by doing a terrible job and breaking your own workplace’s rules, and then quitting out of shame but trying to cover it up by blame mean online people. Imagine!

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Jon 39 minutes ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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f
finn 9 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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