Barnes came in for criticism after taking charge of France's 30-26 win over South Africa in November
Revealed: Horrific Wayne Barnes abuse that led him to consider retirement
Wayne Barnes has admitted he considered hanging up his whistle after his family received horrific abuse online following South Africa’s defeat to France in the Autumn Nations Series.
The game should have been a momentous occasion for the English referee as he took charge of his 101st Test match, a new world record eclipsing Nigel Owens’s previous mark. However, after France won 30-26, Barnes revealed his wife Polly was subjected to threats of sexual violence and threats were made against their kids, with the match official forced to contact the police.
In the days following the match, South Africa’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, shared several video clips on Twitter which appeared to question some of Barnes’s decisions. World Rugby later banned Erasmus for two matches, finishing with the Springboks’ win over England in the final game of the autumn.
Barnes, 43, insisted he understands as a referee you are likely to come in for criticism but that the abuse his family received had gone so far past the line of what is acceptable.
“Criticism on social media quickly becomes abuse. That is the world we live in. That is social media. But I make the decision to be a referee, make the decision to be on social media. Polly, my wife, doesn’t make the decision to be a referee,” revealed Barnes on The Good, The Bad and The Rugby podcast.
“On the Saturday night, there started to be some direct abuse at Polly. Then, the following two or three days, there was threats of sexual violence and threats against the kids.
“That takes it to a different level. When you’ve done 100 games, you think you can prepare for most things. You can’t prepare for that. It’s been a s***** couple of weeks.
“I don’t mind people criticising my performance and, if they want to abuse me directly, that’s their choice. But that wasn’t just a line that was crossed. You couldn’t even see the line, it had gone that far. It affects you and it affects your family.”
Such was the backlash that Barnes’s celebration for reaching three figures when he refereed Wales’ defeat to New Zealand, due to be held at Twickenham at half-time of England against South Africa, was cancelled because he feared for the reception his family would receive from the crowd.
When pushed on whether he thought Erasmus’s comments had played their part in the barrage of abuse sent his way, Barnes said: “I don’t know the answer to that. What I would say is that if people see people in positions who are meant to uphold the values of our game openly criticising referees then it allows others to say, ‘People in positions of power can criticise, why can’t I?’”
Barnes, who is a partner at a law firm, confirmed he had questioned his future with the whistle but said he would still love to take to the field at next year’s World Cup in France.
He added: “Of course (I have questioned my future). That’s a constant conversation you have with your family. I’m still refereeing. Selection is something you can’t guarantee but I’ll be trying. I would love to (be selected for France 2023).”
Opinion: Barnes abuse could be tipping point
No referee, no game. It’s as simple as that, writes Josh Graham. You are not always going to like or agree with a decision but ultimately sometimes you have to suck it up. What’s the alternative? A match refereed by the TMO from the TV truck that lasts ten hours with laborious stoppages in play for every minute call?
Human error is a fact of life and occasionally calls will be subjective as the laws of the game are open to interpretation. That is what makes it so good. If you go down to your local pub and everyone is in agreement, the conversation will soon run dry even if the bar doesn’t. However, there is both an appropriate forum and manner in which refereeing calls should be debated.
Everyone has the right to an opinion but nobody has the right to abuse anyone. The horrendous vitriol directed at Wayne Barnes and his family is despicable and frankly shameful. It’s not news, but social media companies, and where applicable the law, must come down like a ton of bricks on the perpetrators.
The fact Barnes did not feel comfortable to walk out on the pitch at Twickenham to celebrate reaching three figures is the most damning indictment. So much for rugby values. Those involved should take a long hard look at themselves. This should be a wake-up call to the game and its administrators to tackle not only abuse but those who undermine the credibility of match officials.
In a time where the amateur game is bereft of willing volunteers to take charge of matches, this is a terrible look for the elite side of the sport. How do you expect to encourage new young talent to pick up the whistle when arguably one of the greatest to ever do so is treated like this?
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