If the bad idea of ​​criticizing a referee on social media comes to mind, think a little. You risk paying a lot of money for it…

Sport is particularly watched and commented on, and major events are no exception, quite the contrary. With ever-increasing media and financial stakes, each decision taken by referees, in any sport, is the subject of incessant and sometimes violent debate and questioning. We talk a lot about protests from athletes themselves, as we see every week in Ligue 1 where there are many debates about arbitration. The behavior of supporters is also very regularly questioned. But we often forget the tip of the iceberg: the flood of online comments on refereeing performances which sometimes goes far, and even too far for some.

For the first time in the history of a sport, an Internet user was recently convicted of cyberharassment of a referee by the courts. A turning point in the fight for the protection of the refereeing body and against online harassment. As part of the referee protection program set up by rugby’s governing body, World Rugby, an individual was identified after numerous hateful comments directed towards a video referee officiating during the Rugby World Cup in France in September and last October.

After identifying him and noticing that the individual was Australian, World Rugby transmitted the information collected to the country’s justice system, which opened an investigation. The latter did result in a trial, in Sydney, and the defendant admitted all the facts with which he was accused, namely having harassed on the social network Facebook a TMO referee (video arbitration) as well as his partner, in reaction to an Australian rugby team match. He was fined A$1,000 by the court, as well as a “good behavior bond”.

For World Rugby, this decision is historic, and will certainly be followed by other judgments along the same lines. In its press release, the international body explained that five other investigations were underway in different jurisdictions. Alan Gilpin, chief executive of World Rugby, said: “Such behavior is completely unacceptable, and the sport and the authorities are determined to take action.” He also announced the extension and development of the system to protect referees against online hatred at the men’s and women’s Six Nations tournament.