REACTION: RassieGate, or rather the social media firestorm created by South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, could soon settle down.
World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin wants to establish a ‘proper line of communication’ between the global governing body and the South African Rugby Union.
Gilpin, speaking to various media outlets on the fringes of the World Rugby awards this past weekend, said they are determined to ‘protect’ match officials at all levels of the game.
It is reported that referees are growing increasingly reluctant to take charge of Test matches involving South Africa, having seen their families threatened – in the wake of Erasmus’ Twitter tirades in recent weeks.
And, according to World Cup-winning former Springbok captain John Smit Erasmus’s conduct has made South Africa “so easy to dislike”.
Erasmus has been given a two-game matchday ban by World Rugby, following his criticism of refereeing decisions during the ongoing year-end Tests.
As a result, Erasmus missed the Springboks’ 63-21 win over Italy in Genoa last weekend and the 50-year-old, who guided South Africa to 2019 World Cup glory, won’t be at Twickenham for Saturday’s match against England.
“It’s hard to defend him,” Smit told the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily Podcast.
“The way he has approached this is not right,” Smit added.
“Are you telling me Rassie is the only coach frustrated by a call that has gone the wrong way?
“Something has to be done.
“There has to be a line that has to be drawn, and he is making it difficult for his team. It’s made us, as a rugby team, so easy to dislike.”
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Gilpin told the media the latest censure of Erasmus was about “protecting officials at all levels”.
“This is about every referee who is, on a Sunday morning, refereeing kids’ rugby anywhere in the world, having permission to do the job properly, and not having every parent on the touchline posting videos on social media,” he told Rugby Union Daily.
“That’s the really important thing in terms of the integrity of the game.
“The referees will be the first to tell you they welcome feedback. They are really up for those discussions with coaches.”
But Gilpin stressed the importance of that process being “confidential” so “candid” conversations could take place in private and not be played out on social media.
“We have to make sure we protect them in that sense,” he said.
“South Africa is a brilliant and really important part of the game across men’s and women’s, Sevens and 15-a-side. They are world champions and Rassie has done amazing things with that team and is clearly an amazing coach.
“But our view – and he may not agree – is that he has crossed the line. For us, it’s really important we reinforce where those lines are, for everybody to see.
“Being a rugby referee is the toughest job in sport. Let’s give these guys, and the brilliant women who are doing that job, the best support and chance we can, and work with them for them to improve. And that is a responsibility the top coaches have got to take as well.”
While admitting Erasmus “doesn’t agree” with his latest punishment, Gilpin said he wanted to establish a proper line of communication between the world governing body and the South African Rugby Union, rather than a wedge being driven between the two parties.
“What is important is we are able to move forward in a dialogue with them,” he added. “Let’s have a discussion about why certain behavior is appropriate or inappropriate.
“If coaches or other people involved in South African rugby or anywhere else don’t think the protocols are working, let’s talk about that.”
Erasmus has only recently completed a stadium ban, following a World Rugby suspension for his infamous hour-long video criticizing referee Nic Berry’s performance in the first Test between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions last year.
That did not stop Erasmus from publishing several videos on social media that appeared to question decisions made by referee Wayne Barnes during the Springboks’ recent 30-26 loss to France on November 12.
He had made similar comments on social media following South Africa’s defeat by Ireland a week earlier.
Erasmus said accusations that his videos had led to threats against experienced English referee Barnes were “completely unfounded”.
But there is a growing belief among officials that Erasmus’s comments have encouraged angry supporters to make vitriolic posts of their own towards referees and their families.
* Sources: BBCwith additional reporting by AFP extension
Like myself the referee of the French test & his family have received threats & abuse. Apparently it’s partly due to my tweets which is totally unfounded. Tweets were not aimed at the officials, but to our 🇿🇦 fans on what we should do better. Have a go at me not the ref!! Tweets👇🏿 pic.twitter.com/XYnrtjl091
— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) November 17, 2022