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Rugby must take action to address online abuse following the stepping back of Farrell and Foley.


And the pattern continues. Initially, the captain of England’s rugby union team, Owen Farrell, has chosen to step down from playing at the international level. Now, the referee for the World Cup final, Tom Foley, has also made the same decision. Both have mentioned receiving abuse and negative comments online as a contributing factor to their choices. They have both expressed their wish to lessen the stress and scrutiny on themselves and their loved ones.

First and foremost, this column sends its sincere best wishes to both the Farrells and the Foleys. All the high-profile rugby occasions in the world clearly count for nothing in comparison with the wellbeing and mental health of the individuals concerned and those closest to them. Hopefully both of them will be seen back on an international field sooner rather than later.

This week could potentially signify a meaningful shift in the current state of affairs. Perhaps the intense anger on social media will begin to dissipate, and individuals will take a moment to consider the person behind the well-known public figures before publicly criticizing them or expressing disapproval towards referees. It is not only the English rugby community that must take a step back and contemplate the direction of the sport.

A change is necessary to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. Kyle Sinckler, a teammate of Farrell’s in the World Cup, has stated to BBC Sport that he wouldn’t be surprised if more international players decided to take a break, and believes that this is only the beginning. According to Sinckler, there is a growing need to support players in navigating the challenges of their profession in the modern world. He suggests that the issue may not lie with the fans, but rather with the support provided within the team environment. In his opinion, there is room for improvement in this aspect.

The conversation is becoming more and more significant, as the connections within society become strained and the level of hostility on the internet continues to rise. When there is a significant contrast between someone offering constructive criticism in the morning newspaper and receiving verbal attacks and threats of harm from anonymous accounts all over the world, it highlights problems for media organizations. If only a small number of online users are concerned about the broader consequences of their words and actions, it is likely that public discourse will become more aggressive.

The internet requires stricter regulation and a change in mindset. Respect and politeness are at risk of becoming outdated concepts instead of the foundation that maintains the functionality of society. This also applies to the field of sports writing. The interactions between players, coaches, officials, and journalists play a crucial role in ensuring fair and unbiased reporting, and ultimately influencing public opinion. In light of the recent incident involving Saracens’ director of rugby, Mark McCall, who pointed fingers at the mainstream media for instigating the backlash against Farrell, it is disheartening to see such widespread mistrust.

This addresses the relationship between professional critics and athletes. Some of us believe that rugby players, above all, should be respected for their participation in the sport. The physical and mental challenges at the highest level are significant. Coaches have a tough job and referees face nearly impossible tasks. Both good and bad performances can occur for anyone. Reviews, like those in the theater, should strive to be truthful and precise without being personal or unnecessary.

The referee Tom Foley

The media is constantly moving at a rapid pace, making it difficult to include subtle details. Attention-grabbing headlines and clicks are now more important than well-thought-out articles. This is evident when comparing lengthy newspaper columns to short clips of a devastated coach after a major loss. Newcastle’s rugby director, Alex Codling, was a prime example of this over the weekend. The downside of receiving a lucrative TV deal for your league is having a microphone thrust in your face during your lowest moments.

What comes next? For some, the solution may seem clear. Fewer interviews, less interference, get rid of the terrible journalists. However, this is not the right approach. In fact, rugby needs to do the opposite and have more open and frequent discussions. Here’s why: If Farrell and Foley had felt comfortable discussing their concerns and establishing better communication with their employers, the media, and ultimately the public, perhaps things would not have escalated to the extent that they have.

Hopefully, in the aftermath, there will be a reevaluation of how individuals, clubs, and unions interact with the media. Increased access and transparency would be beneficial. Eliminate biased content and restrictive policies and approach things with a fresh perspective. Incorporate input from team captains – for example, Cardiff’s Ellis Jenkins gave an excellent interview recently – and referees as a regular practice. Also, make all team members available for interviews upon request for an hour each week. This would bring authenticity and valuable insights, replacing the previous attitude of disdain and suspicion. Instead of blaming the “mainstream media”, invite rugby reporters for a discussion and coffee to discuss ways to collectively improve the situation.

Rugby, specifically, must discover additional methods to showcase its human aspect. This includes the bonds of friendship and humor, the aspirations and anxieties, the talent and precise decision-making. When the audience only witnesses a small portion of the true narrative, incorrect perceptions and unjust accusations are more difficult to prevent. Blaming the messenger is not the solution either. Aside from improved support for players, the most effective way to alleviate the pressure on Farrell, Foley, and others is through communication and education. If that fails, perhaps disconnecting from the internet would help.

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Source: theguardian.com