6 Nov 2020

Bidwell: Is Raelene Castle’s appointment good for sport?

3:08 pm on 6 November 2020

Opinion - It's a great week for Raelene Castle.

Australian Rugby CEO Raelene Castle.

New Sport NZ chief executive Raelene Castle. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Not many people would've hired her after the run she's had. Castle didn't cover herself in glory at Canterbury-Bankstown or Rugby Australia, while Netball New Zealand took some time to recover from her tenure as chief executive there as well.

But, hey, landings don't come any softer than Sport New Zealand. It's an organisation big on talk and gestures, but one that delivers next to nothing.

After the scrutiny Castle faced in Australia, she couldn't have wished to join an organisation where expectations are lower. If Castle plays her cards right, it could be a decade before anyone actually notices she's chief executive at all.

If it's a great week for her, then it's a great day for bureaucrats too. And for recruitment companies and tax-payer funding and box-ticking.

You'd probably have to say it's a great week for lobby groups and journalists as well.

But is it great for sport? Sure, it's a great day for the sports industry and for photo opportunities but will this have any actual impact upon sport itself?

Confirmation of Castle's appointment at Sport NZ has come accompanied by quotes from that organisation's chairman, as well the chief executive of Women in Sport Aotearoa. Both were thrilled to bits at what Castle's recruitment signifies.

Castle is happy too and there will be those who inevitably write about what a fine woman she is and how it's great that she's working back in New Zealand and not having to deal with the despots she encountered in Australia.

My own dealings with Castle have been very satisfactory and I have always held a high opinion of her and always hoped she'd do well.

But this is bigger than Castle. It's bigger than Sport NZ and it's bigger than females crashing through the various glass ceilings that have existed in this country.

This is about sport and communities and our mental and physical health and it's about action. Rather than trumpeting the fact that Raelene Castle has secured herself another high-paying job, we should be debating the relevance of Sport NZ and whether it serves any purpose at all.

I've written about this stuff for a while now. About being totally unaware of what Sport NZ actually does and completely dismissive of the things that they claim to do in their press releases.

Martin Snedden contacted me following one column I wrote. Snedden has been chief executive of NZ Cricket, a director of the International Cricket Council, chief executive of Rugby World Cup 2011 Ltd and the Tourism Industry Association and is now an NZ Cricket board member with a particular emphasis on grassroots initiatives.

He wasn't thrilled with my copy and offered some examples of what NZC are up to. He also questioned my own involvement in community sport and challenged me to put my money where my mouth was.

Outgoing Sport New Zealand chief executive officer Peter Miskimmin.

Former Sport NZ chief executive Peter Miskimmin Photo: Photosport

I ended up coaching cricket that summer, then rugby in the winter. I've since started a junior cricket club in the town where I live and, weather permitting, we'll have five teams playing in the local club competition this weekend.

I've had huge amounts of help from people and don't mention any of this for a pat on the back.

It's simply to say I have some grasp on the challenges of grassroots sport, but also the benefits of it. The way it unites people and brings them joy and a sense of pride at where they come from.

What's Sport NZ doing to foster any of that? How does their chief executive make positive impacts upon communities?

Do they help little clubs like ours find coaches? Do they fund bats and balls and caps and shirts? Who are they actually benefiting?

Put on a Bledisloe or Constellation Cup match and you'll see plenty of politicians and executives and bureaucrats draped New Zealand scarves, but you won't find many donning an apron at a rugby club sausage sizzle. At least without a television crew there to document it.

I've nothing against Raelene Castle. In fact, I genuinely like her and have no personal issue with her appointment as chief executive at Sport New Zealand.

My issue remains the organisation and what it does and why we have to pretend that the recruitment of a new chief executive makes a blind bit of difference to sport in this country.

Good on Castle, this is great work if you can get it. But the same question persists: what good does Sport NZ actually do for sport in New Zealand?

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