Rugby World Cup Final television match official (TMO), Tom Foley, has revealed he and his family received death threats after New Zealand’s loss to South Africa last month.
Abuse of match officials has unfortunately become a common theme in rugby union in recent years, with Wayne Barnes one referee who has highlighted the growing problem.
Now fellow Englishman Foley is the latest official to confirm his own issues with online trolls, some of whom wished that his family would “die in a dreadful car accident”.
2,000 threatening posts
World Rugby recently announced that 2,000 public online posts from 1,600 different individuals had been made against match officials on social media over recent weeks.
Foley has since lifted the lid on the personal attacks he has been subjected to following the Rugby World Cup Final, which included abusers even emailing his children’s school.
“They were direct threats,” he told the Two Locks and a Cox podcast. “Against you, your family and kids. Things like: ‘I hope your family die in a dreadful car accident. I’m going to hunt you down and slit your throat.’
“Most of it you can take. A lot of it is just from keyboard warriors. But when they know enough information that it could be a problem, that’s when it gets worrying.
Tom Foley was the TMO for the RWC2023 final – a proud moment in his 20 year officiating career.
Now he’s had to warn his children's school because he’s had messages including threats to hunt him down and hopes he’ll die in a car crash.
— Progressive Rugby (@ProgressiveRug) November 28, 2023
“[My children’s] school even had an email. It’s a tiny minority. Think of the millions of people who watched that game. It’s still a tiny percentage, but the problem is, how are we going to get people to referee? The sport as a whole is going to suffer.
“You know, as a referee, you’re going to get grief at some point. You knew, officiating a World Cup final between two teams who had been so successful, you were going to get some grief no matter who won or lost.
“Neither of us understood the level. It has gotten worse in the last year. World Rugby, to be fair, have been proactive, getting a company involved [Signify Group] who screen everything. We send them everything that we get sent directly. They do investigations which can lead to prosecution.”
Foley, a referee for over 20 years, has called for social media users to have to provide identification that can lead to them being traced if they abuse anyone on a platform.
“You can’t hide behind this faceless façade. It’s cowardice,” he told the BBC.
“They wouldn’t say it to you in the street. So why do they feel that they can say it online?”