Wayne Barnes says his family has been threatened after Rassie Erasmus criticism

Wayne Barnes says his family have been threatened after criticism from Rassie Erasmus – Getty Images/Jean Catuffe

Wayne Barnes has considered walking away from refereeing after his wife and children were threatened in online messages following South Africa’s loss to France last month.

The match in Marseille, which saw Barnes break a world record by overseeing his 101st Test, was won 30-26 by the hosts. Over the next week, Rassie Erasmus, the South African director of rugby, posted a series of video clips on Twitter that seemed to question Barnes’ decisions.

Erasmus would later receive a suspension from World Rugby, but Barnes and his family immediately became the subject of prolonged abuse which led to the referee reporting two perpetrators to the police.

Speaking publicly about the ordeal for the first time in an interview with The Good, The Bad and The Rugby podcast, Barnes revealed that his wife, Polly, had been threatened with “sexual abuse”.

“Social media criticism quickly turns into abuse,” Barnes said. “This is the world we live in. It’s social media. But I make the decision to be a referee, I make the decision to be on social networks. Polly, my wife, does not make the decision to be a referee.

“On Saturday night there was direct abuse at Polly. Then the next two or three days there was direct abuse at Polly, threats of sexual violence and threats against children.

“It takes it to a different level. When you’ve played 100 games, you think you can prepare for most things. You can’t prepare for this. It’s been s—– a few weeks.

“I don’t mind people criticizing my performance and, if they want to abuse me directly, that’s their choice. But it wasn’t just a line that was crossed. You couldn’t even see the line, it had gone so far. It affects you and it affects your family.

“Of course, I questioned my future as a referee”

Barnes was asked if he felt the actions of Erasmus, who he hadn’t spoken to since the match, contributed to the vitriol.

“I don’t know the answer to that. What I would say is that if people see people in positions that are supposed to uphold the values ​​of our game openly criticizing the referees, it allows others to say, ‘People in positions of power can criticize, why can’t I ?”

Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney and governing body performance director Conor O’Shea were praised by Barnes for their support.

The referee stressed he retains an ‘incredible relationship’ with the Springbok players but declined an invitation to mark his 100th test as a referee with a half-time display when England hosted South Africa on November 26.

Indeed, while the 43-year-old returned to refereeing in the Premiership and the Champions Cup, he had considered hanging up his whistle.

“I sacrifice myself, but it’s a family sacrifice and you think, ‘I’ve got this other decent job to go to. I’m a partner at a law firm and they want me back full time,” he told the podcast. “Of course you question it, and it’s a constant conversation you have with your family.”

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