Racing 92’s Simon Zebo has said that “there has to be consequences for trolls” after referee Andrew Brace was withdrawn from Toulouse’s Heineken Champions Cup fixture against Exeter Chiefs at the Stade Ernest Wallon.
The referee was scheduled to officiate the match on the 20th of December, but following a torrent of abuse he received online from French fans after last Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final, he will take charge of Wasps versus Montpellier at the Ricoh Arena on the 18th instead.
The Irishman faced some vile personal attacks on Twitter for missing a Billy Vunipola knock-on in the closing stages of the match, which ultimately led to England scoring a match-levelling try and winning in sudden death. A minority of fans even posted abusive messages on his late father’s obituary which he had posted recently on Twitter.
Brace’s compatriot Zebo took to Twitter after the EPCR announced their decision, and said: “Too many nasty cowards not being held accountable on social media…
There has to be consequences for trolls… shocking news about Andrew Brace…”
Too many nasty cowards not being held accountable on social media..
There has to be consequences for trolls..shocking news about Andrew Brace..
— Simon Zebo (@SimonZebo) December 10, 2020
Online abuse is rife in other sports, particularly football, and there are constant calls from players for abusers to be held to account. Indeed, there have been instances where online trolls have been arrested for racist abuse.
Rugby has not experienced this to the same degree, but it plumbed new depths this week.
It is hard to believe that it was only this year that the #BeKind campaign gathered so much momentum, which sought to counter online abuse and trolling. The events over the past week suggest that the benevolence that was previously shown and endorsed has worn thin amongst some communities online as the year has progressed.
Brace’s removal from duty in Frane was the smart play for the EPCR, but it marks a turning point for the game.
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