World Rugby send dossiers to law enforcement to tackle Rugby World Cup referee abuse

Colin Newboult
Wayne Barnes refereeing the Rugby World Cup final between All Blacks and Springboks.

Wayne Barnes refereeing the Rugby World Cup final between All Blacks and Springboks.

World Rugby are looking to take action against supporters who hurled abuse at match officials during the Rugby World Cup.

It is the latest step from the governing body as they attempt to find ways of reducing the number of threatening messages referees face following high-profile matches and tournaments.

According to The Telegraph, World Rugby have handed evidence over to law-enforcement and government agencies, which could ultimately lead to convictions.

Abuse on the rise

The newspaper have reported that 200 incidents, from seven different countries, are under scrutiny following concerns that online abuse against match officials is on the rise.

It was revealed that Wayne Barnes, who took charge of the World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand, had been subjected to death threats following the game.

His wife, Polly, wrote on social media after the game: “What a vile atmosphere at the Stade de France. It’s just a game k***heads. See ya later Rugby World Cup. Won’t miss you, or the death threats.”

That match came almost 12 months after the English referee was criticised by Rassie Erasmus following the Springboks’ defeat to France in their end-of-year tour.

As a result, the English referee’s family were threatened by South African fans and it almost led to him giving it up.

Barnes continued, however, and eventually retired from refereeing at the end of the World Cup, and will dedicate part of his time to helping the younger generation of officials, which includes combating abuse.

Concern over leaks

World Rugby are also worried that the leaks that have occurred after some of the matches at the World Cup are hampering their attempts to protect the match officials.

For example, following the quarter-final between France and South Africa, the French media revealed details of Ben O’Keeffe’s performance review, which highlighted five errors.

And then on Tuesday, New Zealand website Stuff claimed that the governing body “privately acknowledged” that the TMO was wrong to intervene in Aaron Smith’s try in the World Cup final.

Smith’s score was chalked off following Ardie Savea’s knock-on but more than two phases had elapsed after the back-rower lost it forward, which meant the try should have stood according to the law.

“Leaking commentary of performance, as well as explicit criticism, can have dire consequences – for match officials in particular,” a source told The Telegraph.

READ MORE: World Rugby officially responds to ‘privately acknowledged’ World Cup final error