Owens lays into social media after top ref quits
NIGEL OWENS has described the online abuse faced by rugby referees as ‘disgraceful and totally unacceptable’ after Wayne Barnes retired.
The English official brought the curtain down on his stellar career, less than a week after receiving death threats following the World Cup final. The 44-year-old was in the middle for South Africa’s win over New Zealand in Paris, but was subjected to horrendous online abuse after sending off All Blacks captain Sam Cane. ‘Online abuse is unfortunately something referees of today have to deal with,’ Welsh former official Owens told Mail Sport. ‘It’s the world we live in, but disgraceful and totally unacceptable.
‘It’s not going to change unless we change the rules on social media and make people accountable. There is a culture of keyboard warriors out there. Social media is toxic. ‘Sometimes you wonder whether it’s worth being on there. Everyone, not just in rugby, can think about the impact sending a message on social media can have.
‘I lived in that world and still do. I got homophobic comments so I know exactly what it’s like.’ Barnes was always likely to end his career after the tournament and has not quit solely because of the threats. But it is clear he’s had enough of the impact the abuse has had on him and his family.
He is the most capped referee in international rugby history, having officiated 111 Tests since 2006. He also refereed 10 Gallagher Premiership finals and three European Champions Cup deciders, and now wants to ‘advocate for referees’ in his next role.
He said: ‘I want to ensure match officials across the globe not only have a collective voice but also the appropriate support network. ‘Over the past 20 years, I have been in the middle of some of the greatest rugby matches in history. People often say you will know when it is the right time to retire and this is clearly the right time for me and my family.’