5 Dec 2023

Abused rugby ref walks away from internationals

6:00 am on 5 December 2023
English rugby referee Tom Foley

English rugby referee Tom Foley Photo: KIERAN GALVIN AFP

English rugby referee Tom Foley has decided to step away from international match officiating for the foreseeable future, citing online abuse as a major reason.

Foley was the Television Match Official at this year's Rugby World Cup final in France when South Africa defeated New Zealand 12-11, and has previously reported receiving death threats to himself and his family in the wake of that game.

"Having reached the pinnacle in officiating at the Rugby World Cup Final, now feels the right time to take a break from the international game," Foley said in a statement.

"Over the course of 13 years, I have been fortunate to officiate alongside many dedicated professionals and be involved in some of the greatest games in international rugby.

"However, 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."

Wayne Barnes, who refereed the final in October, retired from officiating just days after the game in Paris and also spoke of the abuse he and his family suffered following the match.

Foley, who began refereeing in 2010 and has officiated in 48 tests since his first international game in 2016, was involved at eight games in this year's Rugby World Cup.

"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 added in his statement.

Rugby Football Union CEO Bill Sweeney paid tribute to Foley.

"I would like to thank Tom for his outstanding contribution to international officiating," 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."

Foley will continue to referee domestically in Premiership Rugby.

England captain Owen Farrell, the subject of boos from his own fans having missed the first two games at the World Cup due to suspension, announced last week that he will sit out the 2024 Six Nations in order to prioritise his and his family's mental well-being.