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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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