Rugby: NZ-born fan prosecuted for online abuse during World Cup in landmark case

The Webb Ellis Cup.
The Webb Ellis Cup. Photo credit: Getty Images

A rugby fan has faced an Australian magistrates court for abusing a match official on social media during a World Cup match last year in a decision welcomed by the game's global governing body.

NZ-born Aaron Isaia, 22, has pleaded guilty to one count of using a carriage service to menace or harass via online communication at Beenleigh Magistrates Court near Brisbane.

He was spared a conviction, but handed an A$1000 (NZ$1100) good behaviour bond for 12 months.

Isaia aimed the abuse at Irish Television Match Official (TMO) Brian MacNeice and his family during England's tight 18-17 pool stage win over Samoa at Lille in October. 

"World Rugby welcomes this landmark outcome," said World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin.

"The vile and toxic abuse is an all too common occurrence for many sports men and women, and public figures, and we hope that this sends a very strong message to online trolls that such behaviour is totally unacceptable."

World Rugby struck a partnership with information services company Signify before the World Cup to monitor social media abuse of officials and players during the tournament.

Signify reported 1,600 social media accounts to their platforms for breach of community guidelines during the World Cup. 

All Blacks midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown also welcomes the ruling.

"At the end of the day, we're all humans and so are refs," Lienert-Brown told Newshub. "They're just doing a job.

"I fully back the refs and it's disappointing to hear."

In January, World Rugby said that one person in Australia had been charged with online abuse and cases in other jurisdictions were pending as a result of the monitoring.

"We are delighted to be extending our relationship with Signify Group to tackle online abuse in our sport," Gilpin added.

"In addition to the support provided to our match officials, the partnership has enabled us to focus on the insights that help us better understand the triggers, tactics and threats and how best to mitigate them."