New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson condemns online abuse of match officials as World Cup final TMO steps back

NZ Rugby has condemned abuse towards referees, as another match official leaves the game after the Rugby World Cup final.   

England's Tom Foley is taking a break from his officiating career, citing abuse received after the tournament climax, where he was the television match official (TMO).   

Foley, who has been a match official for more than a decade, received death threats, after contributing to four yellow cards, a red card and a disallowed try for the All Blacks.  

Tom Foley has stepped away from international rugby.
Tom Foley has stepped away from international rugby. Photo credit: Getty Images

His break follows the retirement of veteran Wayne Barnes, who officiated the All Blacks' 12-11 defeat by South Africa.   

Barnes has long been a target for NZ fans, since missing a forward pass in the All Blacks' 2007 World Cup quarter-final defeat to France.   

As was the case with Foley, Barnes also suffered online abuse for his role at the latest World Cup. The world game has united in support of the British pair and New Zealand is no exception.  

Speaking after the final board meeting of the year, NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson says abuse of officials has no place in the game, regardless of level.    

"We're like all other leadership in the game, we just think it's unacceptable," said Robinson. "It's a concerning trend in the game at the moment.   

"There's certainly some work going on behind the scenes as to what we can do to that, as it relates to social media.   

"We certainly don't tolerate it, we don't support it. We want to work hard with all officials across the game to make sure they're well supported."   

The abuse of officials doesn't extend to just the international games.   

In July, Kiwi referee Ben O'Keeffe revealed he too had been sent death threats after the Super Rugby Pacific final, where a key decision went against the Chiefs, as they were beaten by the Crusaders.   

O'Keeffe also suffered social media abuse during this year's World Cup, with French fans targeting the New Zealander after the host nation's loss to the Springboks in the quarterfinals.   

Robinson has outlined NZ Rugby's belief in its current group of officials and faith in those coming through the pathways in place.  

"Whenever we speak in a public or stakeholder forum, we are behind our officials every step of the way," he added. "We've got amazing match officials here in New Zealand, we've got a world-leading group coming through at the moment that we're massively excited about over the next four-year cycle.   

"We want to do everything we can to resource and support them, coach them, give them all the different tools they can to be successful - both domestically and internationally - but that's for more work behind closed doors, in some of those wider forums to take place."