Ex-referee Nigel Owens hits out at 'disgraceful' online abuse
EXCLUSIVE: Ex-referee Nigel Owens hits out at ‘disgraceful’ online abuse following Wayne Barnes’s decision to RETIRE just days after receiving death threats for his performance in the Rugby World Cup final
- Wayne Barnes announced his retirement days after refereeing World Cup final
- He handed out the first red card in final, dismissing All Blacks skipper Sam Cane
- Barnes was subjected to a torrent of abuse online following the match last week
Nigel Owens has described the online abuse faced by modern rugby referees as ‘disgraceful and totally unacceptable’ after Wayne Barnes confirmed his retirement.
Top English official Barnes on Thursday brought the curtain down on his remarkable career less than a week after receiving death threats following the World Cup final.
Barnes, 44, was the man in the middle for South Africa’s win over New Zealand in Paris, but he was subject to horrendous online abuse after he sent off All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
Former Welsh referee Owens came through World Rugby’s system alongside Barnes. Together, they will be remembered as the best two officials of the modern era.
‘Online abuse is unfortunately something the referees of today have to deal with,’ Owens told Mail Sport. ‘It’s the world we live in but disgraceful and totally unacceptable.
Nigel Owens(left) described the online abuse faced by modern rugby referees as ‘disgraceful and totally unacceptable’
English referee Wayne Barnes has announced his retirement just days after refereeing the Rugby World Cup final
The whistler handed out the first ever red card in a final with his dismissal of captain Sam Cane
‘It’s not going to change unless we change the rules on social media and make people accountable for their words and actions. It’s a toxic place and very, very unfortunate.
‘I lived in that world and still do now. I got homophobic comments so I know exactly what it’s like.’
Barnes was always likely to bring an end to his career after the France tournament and there is no suggestion he has quit solely because of the threats he’s received. But at the same time, it is also quite clear Barnes has had enough of the impact social abuse has had on him and his family. Barnes’ wife Polly has been a strong voice on the subject.
After her husband refereed last weekend’s World Cup final, she wrote on social media: ‘What a vile atmosphere at the Stade de France. It’s just a game k***heads. See you later World Cup – won’t miss you or the death threats.’
Barnes – who also refereed 10 Gallagher Premiership finals and three European Champions Cup deciders – has said he wants to ‘advocate for referees’ in his next role.
He said: ‘I will continue to advocate for referees and work closely with the international rugby match officials association. I want to ensure match officials across the globe not only have a collective voice but also the appropriate support network for them and their families, particularly as online abuse has become far too regular for those involved in the game.’
Barnes is the most-capped referee in international rugby history having been the official for 111 Tests between 2006 and this year’s World Cup final. He refereed at a record five World Cups.
World Rugby has reiterated its desire to protect referees from abuse. ‘Over the past 20 years, I have been in the middle of some of the greatest rugby matches in history,’ said Barnes.
Barnes is the most-capped referee in international rugby history and also refereed 10 Gallagher Premiership finals and three European Champions Cup deciders
‘I have seen some of the world’s best players and worked with some of the finest coaches the game has ever produced. People often say you will know when it is the right time to retire and this is clearly the right time for me and my family.’
Owens added: ‘Wayne will quite rightly go down in history as one of the all-time great referees. His contribution to the game on and off the field is a great credit to him both as a referee and a person. What better way to bow out than in a World Cup final?
‘He’s been at the top of his game for a long time now and I always say you become a better referee when you retire! All credit to him for wanting to support the referees of the future.
‘It’s something I work on in my role now in Wales. There is a culture of keyboard warriors out there. Social media is toxic.
‘Sometimes you wonder whether it’s worth being on there. I think everyone – not just in rugby – can think about the impact sending a message on social media can have.’
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