All Blacks assistant coach Jason Ryan has called vitriol directed towards officials “disrespectful and embarrassing” after a World Rugby report revealed the extent of online abuse during last year’s World Cup.
The report was carried out after the tournament and included 899 participants’ social media accounts across referees, players, coaches, teams and organisations.
Of abuse targeted directly at individuals, English referee Wayne Barnes – who has since retired – received a third of it. The abuse towards match officials ranged from match-fixing and corruption accusations to violent and family-related threats.
Over 2000 posts from 1600 separate accounts were identified as have been sending abuse or threats across the tournament, with 21 verified accounts based in New Zealand among those.
The most verified accounts originated in France (95) and South Africa (71).
Speaking to Newstalk ZB’s Jason Pine, Ryan said the findings of the report showed something needed to be done in that space.
“What’s been happening with some of the messaging and threats that have been sent to referees [and] their families is disgusting. It’s something that needs to be cracked down on at the highest level.
“When you get a guy like Wayne Barnes who is probably one of the most experience referees in the world chuck the game in and maybe not even give back to it... it’s a sad state of affairs.
“The sooner something is done about it at the highest level, whether or not that through the law and criminal offences or World Rugby, it has to stop because it’s not good enough.”
The largest spike in abuse came after France were narrowly knocked out of the tournament by South Africa in the quarter-finals. Kiwi Ben O’Keeffe was in charge of that game.
A further spike was seen on the day of the final between the All Blacks and the Springboks due to the profile of the game – and close result. The majority of abuse was targeted again at Barnes, over the players or teams.
England were the most targeted team followed by the Springboks, France and the All Blacks. South Africa were also targeted with high volumes of abuse, elevated by beating New Zealand in the final.
Ryan said, of all the reports findings, he was most surprised by the level of abuse match officials received.
“It’s been constant, and some of the messages, I don’t want to repeat them... it’s just awful,” Ryan said
“I don’t think those messages would be coming from genuine rugby people. People that are embraced in the game, that love rugby for what it is... these people aren’t those people. I’d be very surprised if they are, because the people involved in rugby, good people are running it and good people are involved in it.”
Among the other findings, the report noted a clear correlation between comments from players and coaches in post-game press conferences triggering abuse of officials by the public.
It raises an interesting point as to how disagreements with decisions or how a game was officiated should be dealt with, and Ryan said he felt like the face-to-face approach was the way to go.
“If I’ve got an issue or want to chat to the referee, I’ll have a chat to the referee. I’ve never had a crack in public; I like to have a chat with the referee and work with the referee,” Ryan said.
“We’re working with each other around areas of the game and I know there’s going to be some mistakes. I’ve had some good healthy conversations on the phone with referees, officials and the guys high above trying to sort things out. But when you do it publicly and have a real crack it can be a niggly one and fuel the flame.
“But on the same side of that, the referees and officials have got to be approachable. It’s got to work both ways so we can go in there and have a yarn.”
However, he noted that at the World Cup, that was not a possibility.
“At the World Cup, it was no-go. We couldn’t talk to referees. Was it the right thing to do? I think on reflection, it could’ve been done a lot better.
“I understand in a World Cup there’s different pressure with different things on the line, but you should be able to ring up a coach or ring up a referee and say ‘can I just have a yarn about this?’
“It can’t go on all the time and cloud things, but there should be a cutoff point... but afterwards, why can’t we have a conversation about things so they’re more approachable? That’s all I’d say on that.”
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you