Tom Foley, the television match official for this year’s World Cup final, is the latest figure to walk away from international rugby citing “online abuse”.
The news comes after both the referee Wayne Barnes retired and England captain Owen Farrell stepped back from international duty for the same reasons.
Foley, who will continue officiating at Premiership and European level, revealed that he and his family had received death threats in the wake of the Springboks’ victory over the All Blacks, with abusers even emailing the school of his young children, after ruling out Aaron Smith’s second-half try because of an Ardie Savea knock-on three phases beforehand. Technically, other than foul play, the TMO can only adjudicate on incidents which occur within two phases of a try being scored – even though Savea’s knock-on met the “clear and obvious” threshold.
“Having reached the pinnacle in officiating at the Rugby World Cup final, now feels the right time to take a break from the international game,” Foley said in a statement. “Over the course of 13 years, I have been fortunate to officiate alongside many dedicated professionals and be involved in some of the greatest games in international rugby.
“However, the pressure and scrutiny I came under after the World Cup final, along with a torrent of criticism and abuse online, has helped to reaffirm that this is the right decision for me at this point in my life. While it’s a privilege to be at the heart of some of the sport’s most iconic moments, the increasing levels of vitriol, when the demands and expectations are so high, have led me to this moment.
“Working as an international match official takes you away from home for extended periods, and I am looking forward to spending more time at home with my young children. I am very grateful to my family for their support during my career; without them none of it would have been possible.”
Foley had been selected for the decider as part of an all-English officiating team of Barnes as referee and Karl Dickson and Matthew Carley as assistants after impressing in the quarter-final between Ireland and New Zealand.
Having returned to referee in the Premiership in recent weeks, Foley has overseen matches between Gloucester and Leicester Tigers and Bath and Exeter Chiefs. Over the coming fortnight, he will act as TMO in the Champions Cup for Munster’s meeting with Bayonne and Ulster’s game against Racing 92.
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.
The governing body is due to publish its findings this month, as well as the referee appointments for the upcoming Six Nations.