English referee Tom Foley has made the difficult decision to step away from Test rugby officiating, citing intense pressure, scrutiny, and online abuse following the Rugby World Cup final. Foley, who served as the television match official for South Africa’s triumphant victory against New Zealand, was subjected to a barrage of criticism and even death threats. The incident that intensified the abuse was the sending off of All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
Last month, Foley revealed that he had received death threats aimed at him and his family since the World Cup, prompting him to notify his children’s school for added security measures. This disturbing development highlights the alarming rise of online abuse targeted at sports officials. Foley is not the only referee stepping away from the game due to such abuse. Wayne Barnes, who refereed the final, announced his retirement last month for the same reason.
Foley’s choice to step back follows in the footsteps of England captain Owen Farrell, who recently took a break from international rugby to prioritize his mental health and that of his family. Foley emphasized that the escalating levels of vitriol and the relentless demands placed upon him ultimately pushed him to take this necessary hiatus from the international stage.
However, it’s not all bad news for Foley’s career. Despite his decision to step away from Test rugby, he will continue to referee matches in England’s domestic league, providing his expertise and knowledge to the sport he loves. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) acknowledged the abuse suffered by Foley and other officials, firmly stating that it is unacceptable and promising to take steps to prevent such incidents from occurring.
World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, has also pledged to protect and support international match officials and their families. They have condemned the rise of online hate, both within society and in the sporting realm, recognizing the detrimental impact it has on individuals and their mental well-being.
In other news, Welsh rugby player George North has secured a lucrative two-year deal with French club Provence. Although he will join them next season, North will continue to be available for selection for the Wales national team, ensuring he remains an integral part of their plans moving forward.
The incidents involving Tom Foley and the rise of online abuse against rugby officials serve as a stark reminder of the pressing need to address the issue of online hate in sports and society as a whole. It is crucial that action is taken to protect the mental well-being of athletes, officials, and their families, as they deserve to be valued and respected for their contribution to the game.
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