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Opinion

Phil Kearns won't be the Rugby Australia CEO

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Roar Rookie
23rd April, 2020
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11802 Reads

And so it begins.

There has been both a huge outpouring of support for Raelene Castle and bitter vitriol directed at the ten Wallabies captains, who are the catalyst for the most recent events.

It is only the beginning, however, and that the vitriol is misplaced.

CEOs need to have a thick hide to play in the world they inhabit. They either put in place or oversee systems and changes that may not bear results until long after they have gone. They have to be the face of the organisation during a time of crisis. Some rise to the occasion, others don’t. That comes with the territory.

Either way, they serve at the board’s pleasure and are usually the first scapegoat for the boards failings (or egos).

In Castle’s case, what she oversaw in the identifying and securing of the new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was definitely in her plus column, and a major one at that. On the minus side, she misread both the legalities and the long-term approach to take in the Folau case, such as that done by Netball Australia. Regardless of which side of the Folau fence you sit, it is unarguable that no one came out of it all with an enhanced position and there is the problem. As CEO you own that.

I’m sad to see her go. I don’t agree with her resignation based on what is known at present as a scapegoat, but I certainly see her missteps.

Former Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle

(Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

The Wallabies captains are the most respected and credible people to be sounding the alarm without airing the dirty laundry, and that the entry of the member unions would be telling. If there were problems within RA that weren’t being made public, the strangely unconnected events we are seeing would result in someone suddenly falling on their sword.

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In all the outrage and vitriol directed at the skippers, no one has noted the coincidence of the member unions going public and being involved in a phone hook-up with the board that resulted in Castle’s immediate resignation.

The problem is the board is also supported by the very member unions that ultimately employ her and the phone hook-up went along the lines of: “you’re only there with our support and we want to know what the bloody hell is going on”.

From there it was only a matter of time and someone had to go.

There are some serious issues at RA, the captains really are the catalyst and either the board has used her as a scapegoat or there are other issues that haven’t been revealed.

As to Dave Rennie, the only way he will stay is if the governance and funding is truly sorted, and I suspect that’s a long way off.

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I know many people piled on to the skippers because they didn’t have a specific plan or solution, but as with all things, there is the truth, the half truth and the lie. Each day more has come out.

This isn’t some conspiracy run by News Corp to install Phil Kearns in the CEO position and have RA taken down in a coup by a group of ex-Wallabies captains, as so many believe.

Former Australian Rugby Union player Phil Kearns.

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

It’s fanciful to believe that rugby union is so valuable to a broadcaster bleeding money that they would engineer a complete takeover by proxy. Think about it. It would have needed all of those captains to buy in to a takeover.

Are Foxtel and News opportunists? Absolutely. Would they lob hand grenades in there out of spite or commercial negotiation? Absolutely. But a coordinated plan to take over a struggling national sport? I don’t think so.

Phil Kearns will not be the replacement CEO. Sure, he wants the job. And sure, he will apply. But if I’m any judge of character of those that make the ultimate decision, then he won’t get anywhere near the job.

Were he to do so then the Wallabies captains would be cast as destroyers and his close connection to Foxtel and the bidding process would be such a conflict of interest his position would become immediately untenable and he would either resign or be sacked. It’s just not going to happen.

Could I be completely wrong? Absolutely. It could indeed be a player-led takeover of a board as some AFL clubs have experienced, and we could be in for years of more pain.

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Alternatively, it could also be the convulsions that the sport needs and that supporters, sponsors and indeed players have long been crying out for.