The jury remains out on social media: whether it’s a positive force for debate and news dissemination or merely another platform via which maniacs can air their views.
For sporting stars, Twitter, Instagram and the like should be a vehicle via which they can engage with their fans more closely. But for some, the urge to slate match officials and governing bodies has proven too hard to resist.
Jack Nowell, the Exeter and England winger, is the latest to fall into hot water after he lamented Karl Dickinson’s ‘worst decision ever’ in a contest between the Chiefs and Leicester Tigers earlier this month.
Dickinson had sent off Exeter’s Olly Woodburn for two bookable offences after the player was perceived to deliberately knock the ball on to prevent a Tigers try; a decision which left Nowell apoplectic.
He took to Twitter to vent his fury to his 61,000 followers, writing (in a now deleted Tweet):
“I’m actually in shock, like shock shocked. What the hell is happening? That’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen. EVER.”
Unsurprisingly, the RFU took a dim view of Nowell’s post and have fined him £10,000, which will be donated to charity. The 30-year-old will also have to attend a referee’s training course.
He could yet be banned as well – a fate suffered by his England colleague Anthony Watson, who suffered a one-game suspension after labelling an ‘obsurd [sic] decision’ made by Ian Tempest to send off Mike Williams in a game between Bath and Wasps in October 2021.
In the wake of the Nowell incident, the RFU has reiterated that players will not be banned from using social media during the upcoming World Cup. They will, however, be issued with new guidelines on what they can and can’t post in a bid to ward off any future controversies.
Footballers Punished for Criticising Referees on Social Media
For the most part, sports stars are savvy in their use of social media – or, at least, incidents of referees and match officials being panned are few and far between.
Former Arsenal and Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna was one of the first to be sanctioned for slamming a referee. He insinuated that Lee Mason had acted as Burnley’s ‘12th man’ in a game between the Clarets and City back in 2017.
Sagna took to Instagram after the game to describe the contest, in which Mason had sent off City’s Fernandinho, as ‘10 against 12’.
The post was swiftly deleted and Sagna apologised, but not before he had breached the FA’s Rule E3: ‘Comments about match officials which imply bias, attack the officials’ integrity can be considered in breach of the rule.’ He escaped with a £40,000 fine.
A repeat offender is the mercurial PSG and Brazil star Neymar. In 2019, he was banned from three Champions League games after taking to Instagram to mock the officials – labelling them ‘a disgrace’ – in a game between the Parisians and Manchester United.
He evidently didn’t learn his lesson, as Neymar was at it again in 2022 – lambasting Daniel Siebert on Twitter over a perceived ‘lack of respect’ after booking the Brazilian for his celebrations after netting in a Champions League game against Maccabi Haifa.