Match official in Rugby World Cup final steps away from international game because of online abuse

The television match official from the Rugby World Cup final stepped away from the international game “for the foreseeable future” on Monday, blaming a “torrent of criticism and abuse online.”

English official Tom Foley made a series of big calls in the title match between New Zealand and South Africa in October in Paris, including recommending a red card for All Blacks captain Sam Cane in the first half. The Springboks won 12-11.

Since the World Cup final, the referee of the match — Wayne Barnes of England — has announced his expected retirement while expressing concerns about abuse he and his family received on social media for years.

Last week, England captain Owen Farrell said he was stepping away from test rugby temporarily to “prioritize his and his family’s mental well-being,” according to his Saracens club.

Foley has been a referee for 13 years, including seven in international rugby.

“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,” Foley said in a statement released by England’s Rugby Football Union.

“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.”

Foley said last month that some online trolls said they wished his family would “die in a dreadful car accident” while others have emailed his children’s school to dish out abuse.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said, “The abuse he has suffered since the Rugby World Cup final, along with other officials involved in that game, is totally unacceptable and no one should be treated in this way, doing their job for the sport they are so committed to and passionate about.

“We will do everything possible to help guard against the abuse aimed at match officials and players, and would urge everyone in our game to consider the role they can play in upholding rugby values.”

Foley officiated in 48 international matches, 16 of them in the Six Nations and eight in the recent Rugby World Cup.

World Rugby announced before the tournament that it was partnering with London-based data science company Signify Group to protect officials, players and coaches from online abuse. World Rugby said the wellbeing of tournament participants was a priority, it had zero tolerance for online abuse, and would take action where necessary.

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