French referee calls for rugby to crack down on abuse of officials

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

  • Mail Sport has launched a campaign to help stamp out abuse of match officials 
  • Mathieu Raynal was named French rugby referee of the year at a ceremony
  • Have you witnessed abuse of referees? Contact [email protected] 

Top French rugby referee Mathieu Raynal has warned his sport must act to stop the abuse of officials or risk it heading in football’s direction.

Rugby has often been upheld as a sport which treats its referees with respect, but this year’s World Cup saw Englishman Wayne Barnes subject to death threats for his decision making.

Barnes retired from the sport after taking charge of the final between South Africa and New Zealand and revealed the impact social media abuse directed at him and his family had played in his decision to call it quits. ‘As a group we were facing tough conditions during the World Cup,’ Raynal said.

‘Rugby has to think about that, what they want exactly in the future, and what sort of sport we’re going to give to our children. We still have a sport that’s full of values but it’s starting to change a little bit. We have to be careful about that in the next few years and about where we go as a sport.

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

Mathieu Raynal believes rugby must crack down on abuse aimed at officials or risking following the same path as football

Wayne Barnes retired from refereeing in rugby after his family were targeted with abuse

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

‘We try do our best. We don’t say we are perfect.’

Players confronting referees and directing abuse at their decisions is, unfortunately, commonplace in professional football as well as at the game’s grassroots level.


We want to hear from refs who have been abused – or parents who have witnessed atrocious behaviour on the touchline

Email us at: [email protected]

This week, Mail Sport launched a campaign to drive it out of the round ball game – one which has been backed by the Football Association.

In rugby, players and coaches are, on the whole, more respectful of the man or woman with the whistle.

But it is the abuse from fans on social media which is a significant and growing problem.

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

‘Obviously, we 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 fully agree with Wayne on that. The laws and governments have to be stronger.

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

Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand) become unpopular with home supporters after officiating France’s clash with South Africa

‘That’s really important for referees and sport too. In rugby we forgive player and coaching mistakes, but never refereeing mistakes.’

Raynal believes it would help the rugby public understand refereeing decisions better if the officials were able to give post-match press conferences like players and coaches.

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

‘Before the World Cup we discussed how we should communicate in front of the press if there has been a mistake that changes the game,’ Raynal said.

‘My view on that is we have to keep it very simple. I go and sit on a chair and explain: “OK guys, I made a mistake. The game was so quick. I made a mistake of judgement.

‘I’m not sorry about it as my job is to referee and mistakes can happen, but I am sad about it and it is what it is. What do you want me to do? It’s the life of the referees.

‘I think it was probably a mistake to put the bunker in at the last moment just before the World Cup without practicing it before and using it more.

‘It was tough too because you send a situation to the bunker, they come back to you with a decision, and you cannot explain to the world why you chose that decision.

‘Before that, we could put words on the footage and could take people by the hands and they followed us until the final decision.

Barnes retired just after overseeing the final of the World Cup between South Africa and New Zealand

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

‘It would be interesting to see a game without a TMO. After one mistake people would accept it, after two mistakes they’d start to complain, and then after three mistakes they would ask for the TMO to be brought back. We cannot fight against mistakes or avoid refereeing mistakes.

‘We just need to accept it and we’ll lose less energy fighting for zero mistakes in a game. You can put a drone up, something in the ball, have experts everywhere and 20 bunkers but that won’t change the fact that at some moments, you will still have to accept mistakes by referees.

‘The game is very quick. We make decisions in a split second. We will lose less energy if we educate people to accept that rather than trying to change it.’

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