Premiership referee brings to light distressing cyber assaults, underscoring the pressing necessity to combat mistreatment of match officials in sports.
Following South Africa’s triumph over New Zealand in the recent World Cup final, Tom Foley, the television match official and a Premiership referee, disclosed the appalling barrage of death threats and online harassment endured by him and his family. Foley, on the Two Locks and a Cox podcast, unveiled the harrowing ordeal faced by match officials in the aftermath of high-profile rugby events.
Foley, along with Wayne Barnes, becomes the second official in a month to vocalize the significant mistreatment directed at them or their dear ones following the World Cup final in Paris. The alarming surge in mistreatment transcends personal attacks, with perpetrators even reaching out to Foley’s young children’s school via email.
During the recent World Cup in France, approximately 200 instances of social media abuse across seven different countries were identified. World Rugby is prepared to take action against those responsible, including the possibility of legal proceedings.
Signify Group, a data science and artificial intelligence company collaborating with rugby’s governing body, unearthed 2,000 public posts (excluding private messages) from 1,600 different individuals, meeting the criteria for potential legal action if originating from the United Kingdom.
In a recent interview, Tom Foley, the TMO of the World Cup final, revealed the deplorable online abuse suffered by him and his family post the game.
In a BBC interview, he acknowledged that he had never encountered anything of this magnitude in his 20-year career. pic.twitter.com/64lDHnSsro
— BallCarrier (@BallCarrier_) November 29, 2023
Foley revealed, “They made direct threats against you, your family, and kids. Statements such as: ‘I wish your family meets with a horrific car accident. I intend to track you down and harm you.’ While most of it can be shrugged off as mere chatter from keyboard warriors, it becomes disconcerting when they possess enough information to pose a potential threat.”
The repercussions of such mistreatment on match officials raise apprehensions about the future of refereeing in the sport. Foley stressed the imperative for concerted endeavors to address this issue, asserting, “The sport as a whole will suffer. How can we entice individuals to referee?”
World Rugby has taken proactive measures by enlisting Signify Group to scrutinize and probe abusive content, potentially resulting in legal action. Foley condemned the anonymous and cowardly nature of online mistreatment, questioning the empowerment felt by individuals to express such remarks on the internet.