The CEO of Rugby Australia, Raelene Castle, has resigned under pressure from her board. This is a disgraceful turn of events, and the lack of solidarity on the board is gob-smacking.
What is she to claim responsibility for in her resignation?
Poor performance at Japan’s Rugby World Cup? That’s on Michael Cheika, who caused Castle no shortage of grief.
Sacking Israel Folau? Folau was never to play for the Wallabies again, according to both Cheika and the captain, Michael Hooper.
While it might come as a surprise to Alan Jones, there are vast swathes of the rugby community – not to mention the general public – that applauded this decision.
Not sacking Cheika? Difficult given the financial implications.
Poor performance by Australia’s Super Rugby teams? You’re kidding.
Castle was handed a broke basket case of a code and went about shaking things up. Her appointment of Dave Rennie was astute, and she was in the process of securing a TV deal and the financial future of the game.
Which brings us to an ill-timed letter to the Rugby Australia board from several former Wallabies, which acted as a catalyst to the resignation. The letter provided no solutions to the problems identified, and invitations to discuss concerns with RA in person were, it seems, declined.
Could it be because there is, in fact, a paucity of ideas and understanding about how to administer an Australian sports code among the signatories? Do they have plans for rugby in Western Australia, in western Sydney, and for the women’s game? Are they aware that RA has been making headway in Tasmania?
The presence of Phil Kearns on the letter gives the game away. Kearns was put forward as an alternative CEO to Castle, and it is hard not to see his signature as self-interest writ large.
The presence of a number of other players central to the player power controversies of years past is also cause for concern. Let’s hope they don’t see the way forward as more pay for professionals and less for the grassroots.
Most concerning, however, is the presence of Kearns, George Gregan and Nathan Sharpe as both signatories and Fox Sports employees. This is clearly a conflict of interest, given the amount of scrutiny applied to Castle off the back of the protracted contract agreements between RA and Fox Sports.
If the agreement had been successful, it appears Castle’s job could have been secured. It is up to these gentlemen to reflect on, and perhaps explain to the rugby public, whether they did everything they could behind the scenes to ensure that the television rights secured by Castle and her team were in Australian rugby’s best interest.
Finally, the absence of a number of Wallabies captains was as telling as who was included on it. Putting John Eales and Phil Waugh as current board members to one side, the absence of David Wilson, James Horwill, Rocky Elsom, Mark Loane and Mark Ella, just to name a few, suggests there was nowhere near any sort of unity of opinion among former players – let alone the wider rugby community – on Castle’s performance.
It is unclear what Castle’s resignation has achieved, or what she failed to do as CEO.
It is unclear who the next CEO will be. But if one of the signatories becomes CEO, expect a huge deal of scepticism, even contempt, among Australian rugby-lovers.
The resignation marks a deep nadir in Australian rugby, with a halted playing season now joined by an administration in total chaos.