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08th Nov 2023

Wayne Barnes opens up on some of the worst social media abuse he received

Ryan Grace

“Threats of sexual violence, threats of saying we know where you live. It crosses that line.”

Retired rugby referee Wayne Barnes has opened up about the ‘vile’ abuse he and his family have received whilst working in sport.

Barnes, who retired in the days after South Africa’s World Cup final win over New Zealand in Paris, wants those responsible for the abuse to be punished.

His wife, Polly, previously said Barnes received death threats after the match at the Stade de France.

Wayne Barnes has opened up about the social media fallout to the BBC:

“When people make threats against your wife and kids, they should be held to account and punished.

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.

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.”

Wayne Barnes during the 2023 Rugby World Cup final match between New Zealand and South Africa (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Barnes made history at the 2023 Rugby World Cup final

Wayne Barnes is one of modern rugby’s most recognisable figures.

The Englishman has taken charge of a record 111 Tests and has officiated at five World Cups.

He showed the first-ever red card in a final to New Zealand captain Sam Cane for a high tackle as South Africa retained their title.

Sam Cane of New Zealand (not pictured) receive a red card by Wayne Barnes during the Rugby World Cup final (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

Wayne Barnes calls for changes to help end online abuse

Barnes spoke to the BBC in what is his first interview since announcing his retirement.

He was asked about the abuse he received online while working as a referee:

“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”

VAR check for a possible penalty during a Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Barnes wants protection for referees across all sports

Aside from his work as a referee, Wayne Barnes is a qualified lawyer and an advocate for officiating across all sports.

He says the treatment of football referee Anthony Taylor, who was abused at Budapest airport by Roma fans after officiating the Europa League final back in May, was “hugely sad” and “made my heart bleed”.

Barnes says football’s use of VAR still has a long way to go before matching the success of the rugby’s TMO system.