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First person prosecuted for abusing match official online during RWC

By Josh Raisey
Referee Wayne Barnes (R) and his assistants Karl Dickson (C) and Matthew Carley look on during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Gold Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

A man has been prosecuted for the online abuse of a television match official and his wife during the World Cup last year.

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World Rugby have confirmed that the man was convicted of using a carriage service to menace or harass via online communication, having been identified as an individual in Australia through World Rugby’s online abuse programme after sending messages on Facebook.

The case was subsequently referred to the Australian authorities. World Rugby also stated that they intend “to take steps to bar the individual from purchasing tickets for future World Rugby owned events.”

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This is the first time someone has been prosecuted for abusing an official online, but World Rugby have confirmed that further cases are pending in five jurisdictions.

World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said: “World Rugby welcomes this landmark outcome. The vile and toxic abuse is an all too common occurrence for many sports men and women and public figures, and we hope that this sends a very strong message to online trolls that such behaviour is totally unacceptable and that the sport and the authorities are prepared to take action.

“We are delighted to be extending our relationship with Signify Group to tackle online abuse in our sport. In addition to the support provided to our match officials, the partnership has enabled us to focus on the insights that help us better understand the triggers, tactics and threats and how best to mitigate them.”

The abuse and persecution that match officials are subjected to came into the spotlight earlier this year with World Rugby’s Whistleblowers documentary, which chronicled their experiences during the World Cup.

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Since the World Cup, Wayne Barnes retired from refereeing after taking charge of the final, while TMO Tom Foley stood down from international duty citing “the pressure and scrutiny I came under after the Rugby World Cup Final, along with a torrent of criticism and abuse online,” as a the driving force behind his decision. Mathieu Raynal is also set to retire at the end of the season. 

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