Super Rugby final referee Ben O’Keeffe has shared the shocking abuse and death threats he receives for just doing his job.
Many of the messages aim to intimidate O’Keeffe, who was on this whistle for this past weekend's game between The Chiefs and The Crusaders. They threaten beating him up, stabbing him, and some are just straight-up death threats.
All of them are just way too far - the messages are disgusting and seriously disappointing to see from the New Zealand rugby audience.
Sharing screenshots of the abuse on Instagram, Ben said he had grown used to these kinds of communications but that doesn't mean it's acceptable.
“Abuse in any form is never OK,” he wrote to start the caption. “Unfortunately, as a union referee at the highest level, I have had to accept and grow accustomed to the post-match vitriol that fans normalise post-game.”
“It’s a sad reality that it doesn’t affect me anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.”
“I think back to the Europa League Final referee walking through the airport and his family getting chairs thrown at them. I hope my family is never subjected to this but the direction some fans are going now in rugby, I know we are closer than we have ever been.”
“Referees are part of the game, and we need support from players and coaches to have the tough conversations privately but to publicly back and support their officials – not criticise. This will change the way the fans treat us.”
“Abuse is out there and for anyone going through it right now in any form please understand there is support there, people do love you, there is help available and if all else fails, send me a message and I would be happy to talk with you.:
“Let’s celebrate the season, let’s celebrate what was a great final from the players.”
“There were some excellent decisions, and some poor ones that I accept I made and need to improve on – continual growth is something that excites me to be better for the game.”
“We need Rugby to be the best game in the world, on and off the field - let’s do it together.”
Well said by O’Keeffe. Hopefully, this kind of chat could start a larger discourse on how rugby fans treat the game and the people involved in it. Heaps of the comments on the post were in support of O'Keeffe, which is good to see.
Caleb from Rock Nights is a local rugby referee and he shared his thoughts on this whole situation on air and on his Instagram. You can listen to that below.
"The bloke in the middle is NOT a machine," Caleb said. "He is a human, with 2 other humans, and another human upstairs."
Any sports fans know how frustrating supporting a team can be but to threaten someone’s life over it is fucked up and embarrassing. Criticism is fine, abuse is not.
The NZ rugby community needs to be better.