Neville was serving as the television match official in England’s win over France at Twickenham on Saturday. She played a major role in the outcome of the match by overturning referee Andrew Brace’s no try decision in the final minutes of the match and awarding Maro Itoje a try. This is a decision that many people have viewed as the right call.
However, she has been subjected to sexist abuse online, which is becoming all too frequent in rugby.
This is a disheartening repeat of the autumn, where England’s encounter with France in the Autumn Nations Cup led to more online abuse after an extra-time finish. Brace was also the referee on that occasion, and faced a wave of invective from French fans following his performance.
The former Ireland international Neville was actually praised at the time for overturning the decision in such a pressurised moment in the match, and has since received plenty of backing over it. The easy option was to go with the on field decision, but a call as close as that is bound to create controversy either way. This Six Nations has been steeped in controversial calls by officials and that is expected; abuse of this nature is not.
“Brilliant decision from Joy Neville,” said Ronan O’Gara on Virgin Media. “Courageous decision to overrule the referee.”
Further, with more scrutiny over the subsequent days, more people are siding with the TMO’s choice. But there is an ugly minority that opt to abuse the officials online in the wake of a loss.
Regardless of whether it was a try or not, nothing justifies the response seen on Twitter, and rugby is not alone in this battle against online trolling.
The 23-20 loss to England ended France’s hopes of a Grand Slam this year, although their Championship hopes are still alive, meaning these responses are highly charged and full of emotion, not that that is an excuse.