23 Apr 2020

Australian rugby old boys bullying Raelene Castle - Bidwell

11:13 am on 23 April 2020

Opinion - Hopefully it's because Raelene Castle is a New Zealander.

Australian Rugby CEO Raelene Castle.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Something obviously possessed a group of 11 former Wallabies captains to pen an open letter calling for Castle's removal as Rugby Australia (RA) chief executive.

By virtue of being a New Zealander, albeit one born in Australia, Castle is an outsider.

At least where the aforementioned 11 are concerned.

They used to be insiders and would like to be again. That's why there was a letter.

One of the signatories - Phil Kearns - was one of the unsuccessful applicants when Castle was appointed.

The thinking now, at least within certain circles of rugby in Australia, is that if she's ousted, then he can take over.

You see, Castle's nationality is important here. More important actually than her competence.

The jury's out on the latter. Netball folk, both here and in Australia, have told me she was absolutely outstanding as Netball New Zealand chief executive.

I've expressed doubts about that, only to be put in my place by people who'd theoretically know better.

Castle's time with the Canterbury-Bankstown rugby league club probably wasn't a great success, but then how would you know?

That sport is riven by more factions than most, and every comment or article comes with its own agenda.

But let's say for argument's sake that Castle is an outstanding sports administrator, who's done the best she could with RA.

Let's face it, the game over there's not in great shape and the best thing to happen to it in years was the signing of Dave Rennie as Wallabies coach.

Without Castle, there's no Rennie and if he's not on the books, then there's nothing about Australian rugby to enthuse about.

Because if this isn't about Castle's nationality and it's not about competence, then what is it about? Surely not gender?

Kearns' television commentary might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he is a person of stature in rugby.

As are the other 10 men who want Castle out: Nick Farr-Jones, George Gregan, Michael Lynagh, Simon Poidevin, Rod McCall, Jason Little, Nathan Sharpe, Stirling Mortlock, George Smith and Stephen Moore.

Would they round on a fellow member of the old boys' club in quite the same way?

Rugby needs to get going again, if only to obscure how the game's really played and by who.

We don't often give a lot of thought to boards and lobbyists and money men, but with no footy on, rugby reporting has tended to centre on situations such as the one in Australia and the race to be chairman of World Rugby.

On that front you have incumbent Bill Beaumont, 68, the former England captain.

He's promising to make the establishment rich by getting a world league up and running.

The players shouted that idea down the last time it came up but, with the game going broke, money's inevitably going to talk.

Beaumont's challenger Agustin Pichot wants a fairer rugby landscape. One in which the smaller nations aren't left to fall further behind.

In the background you have men such as former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, lamenting the lack of a global season and the type of league Beaumont's been talking about.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) are in real financial strife.

A year ago they forecast a deficit of $30 million for the following five years and now we have the impact of a global pandemic to factor in too.

A lucrative world league would provide some short-term respite, without addressing the fundamental issue that their wage bill is much, much too high.

Until All Blacks are paid more modest wages - or they're picked from overseas - NZR's financial position won't improve.

Games usually obscure all this stuff. Sure, it goes on, but we have better things to worry about.

Now these backroom deals are there for all to see. Along with the undedifying sight of 11 former Wallabies captains trying to bully Raelene Castle.

Maybe she's not the best fit for RA, but who would be right now?

What's not up for debate is that no sports administrator deserves to be ganged up on the way she has.

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