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Wayne Barnes weighs in on resignation of ex-colleague Tom Foley after online abuse

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)

Recently retired referee Wayne Barnes has said “rugby has lost one of its best officials” after his former colleague Tom Foley announced that he will step down from officiating international matches following the abuse he received online in the aftermath of the World Cup final.

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Barnes took charge of South Africa’s World Cup final victory over the All Blacks at the Stade de France in October, his 111th and final Test, and was supported by television match official Foley and assistant referees Karl Dickson and Matthew Carley. He retired shortly after the final, and has since revealed the extent of the abuse that he received after the match.

That abuse was not solely reserved for Barnes though, as Foley cited the “torrent of criticism and abuse online” as a leading factor in his decision to step down from international matches.

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After Foley’s decision was announced, Barnes took to X on Tuesday lamenting the events of the past few weeks and highlighting where rugby is going wrong currently.

Officials are of course not the only figures that have been subjected to abuse, as last week England captain Owen Farrell announced that he will not take part in the upcoming Six Nations after being the victim of abuse from (staggeringly) his own fans.

“There is so much wrong with society, wrong with our game and wrong with so called fans if Tom Foley, who’s significantly developed and improved the role of a TMO, steps down from international rugby,” the 44-year-old wrote.

“Rugby has lost one of its best officials.

“People need a hard look at themselves.”

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International rugby’s loss is the Gallagher Premiership’s gain though, as Foley confirmed that he will now solely focus on domestic rugby.

Foley said in an RFU statement on Monday: “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.”

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How Queensland Reds can spark Schmidt's Wallaby revolution

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