French rugby referee Mathieu Raynal calls for the sport to crack down on abuse of officials – or risk heading in the same direction as football – after Wayne Barnes and his family were targeted after the World Cup final

France’s top referee Mathieu Raynal has warned that his sport must take action to stop referee abuse or risk going the way of football.

Rugby is often seen as a sport where referees are treated with respect, but during this year’s World Cup, Englishman Wayne Barnes received death threats over his decision-making.

Barnes retired from the sport after taking charge of the final between South Africa and New Zealand and revealed the impact that social media abuse against him and his family had had on his decision to quit. “As a group we faced tough conditions during the World Cup,” Raynal said.

‘Rugby needs to think about that, what exactly they want in the future and what kind of sport we are going to give our children. We still have a sport that is full of values, but it is starting to change a bit. We have to be careful about that in the coming years and where we are going as a sport.

‘We don’t like to be in the middle of controversy. I don’t like seeing friends in the social media storm. It is difficult for us as humans to understand.

Mathieu Raynal believes rugby must crack down on abuse that targets officials or risks following the same path as football

Wayne Barnes retired from refereeing rugby after his family was the target of abuse

Mail Sport has launched a campaign to stop the abuse of referees to boost the game

‘We are doing our best. We’re not saying we’re perfect.’

It is unfortunately common for players to confront referees and insult their decisions, both in professional football and at the grassroots level of the game.


We want to hear from referees who have been abused – or parents who have witnessed appalling behavior on the sidelines

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This week, Mail Sport launched a campaign to drive it out of the roundball game – a campaign that was backed by the Football Association.

In rugby, players and coaches generally have more respect for the man or woman with the whistle.

But fan abuse on social media is a significant and growing problem.

On Monday evening, Raynal was named French rugby referee of the year at an awards ceremony in Paris. During the event, the crowd booed when an image of New Zealand official Ben O’Keeffe appeared on the screen. O’Keeffe was responsible for France’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to South Africa.

“We obviously cannot accept that,” Raynal said of referees receiving online vitriol.

‘We don’t accept it on the street, so why do we accept it on social media? I completely agree with Wayne on that. The laws and governments must be stronger.

Raynal was named French rugby referee of the year during an awards ceremony on Monday

Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand) becomes unpopular with home fans after leading France’s clash with South Africa

‘That is also very important for referees and sports. In rugby we forgive player and coaching errors, but never referee errors.’

Raynal believes the rugby public would be able to better understand the referees’ decisions if the referees could give post-match press conferences to players and coaches.

The 42-year-old also said it was a mistake for rugby to introduce the bunker system – which allows referees to refer decisions for referral – on the eve of the World Cup.

“Before the World Cup we discussed how to communicate to the press if a game-changing mistake has been made,” Raynal said.

‘My view on this is that we should keep it very simple. I sit down on a chair and explain: “Okay guys, I made a mistake. The game went so fast. I made an error in judgment.

‘I don’t regret it because it’s my job to referee and mistakes can happen, but I’m sad about it and it is what it is. What do you want me to do? It’s the referee’s life.

‘I think it was probably a mistake to put the bunker in at the last minute just before the World Cup, without practicing with it earlier and making more use of it.

“It was also difficult because if you send a situation to the bunker, they come back to you with a decision, and you can’t explain to the world why you chose that decision.

‘We were able to put words to the images and take people by the hand and they followed us until the final decision.

Barnes quit shortly after overseeing the World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand

‘That was interesting in terms of communication and explanation to people. With the bunker we broke off the relationship with the people, which was difficult.

‘It would be interesting to see a game without TMO. After one mistake people accepted it, after two mistakes they started complaining, and after three mistakes they asked for the TMO to be returned. We can’t fight mistakes or avoid referee mistakes.

‘We just have to accept it, then we lose less energy fighting for zero mistakes in a match. You can set up a drone, something in the ball, have experts everywhere and twenty bunkers, but that doesn’t change the fact that you will still have to accept mistakes from referees at times.

‘The game is very fast. We make decisions in a split second. We will lose less energy if we teach people to accept that, instead of trying to change it.’