New Zealanders avoid prosecution for online abuse of referees during World Cup

New Zealanders avoid prosecution for online abuse of referees during World Cup

New Zealand police have decided not to file charges against fans who abused match officials during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

During the tournament, more than 900 social media accounts were comprehensively monitored, including those belonging to all match officials and World Rugby's official channels.

The key actions and outcomes of the online protection service to support match officials and players were to deliver unique insights for World Rugby to convert into meaningful action.

The investigation revealed that the England team account and their players received the largest volume of abuse - mostly general abuse - while South Africa were also targeted with high volumes of abuse, elevated by beating New Zealand in the final.

Evidence of content that passed the threshold of criminal activity and hateful communication was shared with law enforcement, and earlier this week, a rugby fan in Australia was convicted for sending online abuse to a match official during the tournament, but New Zealand police have confirmed that they will not be taking any further action.

Despite World Rugby's push for prosecution, New Zealand police told The Post that investigations had been completed without any charges being laid.

"Police investigating two complaints received from World Rugby about online abuse of match officials have decided not to file charges," a police spokesperson told the publication.

"Police interviewed two people involved in the separate incidents relating to last year's Rugby World Cup.

"Both had not appreciated the effect that their actions would have on the match officials and expressed genuine remorse.

"They have undertaken to write personal written apologies to the officials concerned as part of the resolution process.

"Police has already communicated this outcome to World Rugby."

The police had investigated three complaints but deemed that the third did not reach the threshold for further investigation as a criminal offence.

New Zealand Rugby reacted to the NZ Police's decision with the following statement to The Post: "NZ Rugby strongly condemns abuse towards match officials, there is no place for it in rugby.

"Referees are an integral and valued part of our sport at all levels of the game. We encourage everyone in the rugby community to play an active role in standing against abuse, whether it's online, in stadiums or on the sidelines."

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