Tom Foley, the television match official for the World Cup final, said he and his family received death threats in the wake of South Africa’s victory over New Zealand with abusers even emailing the school of his young children.
Earlier this month, Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed that approximately 200 incidents of social-media abuse across seven different countries were identified during the recent World Cup in France, with World Rugby set to become the first sports governing body to take action against those responsible – with prosecutions possible.
On the Two Locks and a Cox podcast, however, Foley added that Signify Group, a data science and artificial intelligence company working alongside rugby’s governing body, had identified 2,000 public posts – not including private messages –from 1,600 different individuals that met the threshold for prosecution if they had been sent from the United Kingdom.
“They were direct threats,” Foley said. “Against you, your family and kids. Things like: ‘I hope your family die in a dreadful car accident. I’m going to hunt you down and slit your throat.’
“Most of it you can take. A lot of it is just from keyboard warriors. But when they know enough information that it could be a problem, that’s when it gets worrying.
”[My children’s] school even had an email. It’s a tiny minority. Think of the millions of people who watched that game. It’s still a tiny percentage but the problem is, how are we going to get people to referee? The sport as a whole is going to suffer.
“You know, as a referee, you’re going to get grief at some point. You knew, officiating a World Cup final between two teams who had been so successful, you were going to get some grief no matter who won or lost.
“Neither of us understood the level. It has gotten worse in the last year. World Rugby, to be fair, have been proactive, getting a company involved [Signify Group] who screen everything. We send them everything that we get sent directly. They do investigations which can lead to prosecution.”
Foley added to the BBC: “You can’t hide behind this faceless facade. It’s cowardice. They wouldn’t say it to you in the street. So why do they feel that they can say it online?”