Landmark prosecution case of online abuse by troll of Rugby World Cup official

English Referee Wayne Barnes blows the whistle to end the game as South Africa's players celebrate their victory at the end of the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris

World Rugby hailed a landmark’ after a man in Australia was prosecuted for targeting a match official and his family online. Picture: Thomas Samson/AFP

Published Apr 9, 2024


World Rugby hailed "a landmark" after a man in Australia was prosecuted for targeting a match official and his family online during last year's Rugby World Cup in France.

The rugby body said that it was the first prosecution for online hate at the 2023 World Cup and "further cases are pending across five jurisdictions”.

The man, identified by Australian media as Aaron Isaia, a youth worker from Brisbane, pleaded guilty an online harassment charge on Monday and was handed an AUS$1,000 ($650) good behaviour bond.

He will also be banned from all World Rugby events.

Landmark outcome

"World Rugby welcomes this landmark outcome," chief executive Alan Gilpin said in a statement.

"The vile and toxic abuse is an all-too-common occurrence for many sports men and women and public figures.

"We hope that this sends a very strong message to online trolls that such behaviour is totally unacceptable and that the sport and the authorities are prepared to take action.”

The New Zealand-born Isaia, 22, sent a television match official (TMO) and his wife threatening and abusive messages via Facebook during the World Cup.

He was tracked down by a World Rugby online abuse programme supporting match officials and their families.

Separately, Wayne Barnes, who refereed the World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand in Paris, reportedly received death threats afterwards, as did TMO Tom Foley.

Whether the court case ruling will affect the number of cases of online abuse directed at match officials, remains to be seen.