Wayne Barnes, the referee of the Rugby World Cup final, has condemned the vile abuse he and his family have received on social media and called for those responsible to be held accountable. The 44-year-old English official recently officiated one of his most challenging matches, where he infamously showed the first red card in a men's World Cup final to New Zealand captain Sam Cane during South Africa's narrow 12-11 victory in Paris. Barnes faced numerous contentious decisions throughout the match, leading him to announce his retirement just five days later, having amassed a record 111 Tests.
Barnes spoke out against the threatening and abusive messages directed towards him and his loved ones. He implored that individuals who make threats against one's family should face repercussions for their actions. Barnes described the threats he received as crossing a line, including threats of sexual violence and even disclosing knowledge of where he and his family live.
Despite the challenges he faced, Barnes stressed the importance of maintaining a social media presence to promote charitable work and provide explanations for officiating decisions. However, he acknowledged that this presence also exposed him to hate and violent messages.
Barnes questioned why individuals who engage in such abusive behavior should be allowed to remain involved in the rugby family. He called for prosecuting agencies to explore ways to address online abuse and hold offenders accountable. Additionally, Barnes urged legislative action to regulate the actions of social media platforms and prevent such abuse. He also called on governing bodies to consider their role in addressing online abuse within the rugby community.
Barnes' experience highlights the pervasive issue of online abuse faced by public figures in various industries, and the urgent need for action to create safer online spaces for everyone. The targeting of individuals and their families with threats and hate speech is a serious concern that should not be tolerated. The responsibility lies not only with individuals to treat others with respect and kindness but also with platforms and governing bodies to enforce stricter policies and take appropriate action against perpetrators of online abuse.