Rugby World Cup referee Wayne Barnes opens up on ‘sexual violence threats’

Rugby World Cup final referee Wayne Barnes has opened up on receiving threats of sexual violence in the aftermath of South Africa’s victory over New Zealand last month. Barnes became the first English official since 1995 to oversee the final but the feat has since been overshadowed by a torrent of abuse he has received online.

Threats of sexual violence have been received while Barnes alleges individuals have sent him messages claiming they know his home address. Barnes is unique among the referee community in that he maintains a social media presence, in part to promote charity work.

However, he believes internet trolling is becoming worse and says he receives messages containing “hate and violence”.

“Threats of sexual violence, threats of saying we know where you live. It crosses that line. Social media is getting worse and it’s the sad thing about the sport at the moment. It has not been a one-off,” the 44-year-old told the BBC.

“I’m on social media for numerous reasons. One is to promote the charitable work I do and to also promote officiating and to explain what a difficult job it is and to humanise it.

“I make that choice, and with that choice comes the ability for people to send messages of hate and violence.”

Barnes wants strong penalties for those who abuse on social media. He added: “If you’re a fan at your local rugby club and you’re sending vile messages to people’s families and making threats, why should you be able to be involved in the rugby family?

“The bit I’ve always struggled with and will continue to struggle with is when that abuse comes to my family. I want prosecuting agencies to consider ways of doing that, I want legislation of what social media sites can do to prevent it and I also want governing bodies to consider what they can do.”

Barnes admits he was affected by videos of football referee Anthony Taylor and his family being hounded by Roma supporters after last season’s Europa League final. Taylor was met by hundreds of Italians inside an airport, with some goading his family, after Jose Mourinho launched into a tirade over his performance in Roma’s defeat by Sevilla.

Mourinho was banned for four matches and Barnes says individuals with authority must learn that their actions have consequences. He continued: “It was hugely sad. That could easily have been me and my family after a game. I remember watching that video of Anthony and I was devastated because you see the human side.

“People don’t see the human side of refereeing. They think we are the man or woman who turn up on a Saturday afternoon who ruin their day. But we are actually human beings with families and kids and to see Anthony on that day absolutely broke me.”

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