Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle has resigned after nearly two-and-a-half years in the position at the instigation of the governing body’s board.
“In the last couple of hours, it has been made clear to me that the board believes my no longer being CEO would help give them the clear air they believe they need,” Castle said in a statement.
“The game is bigger than any one individual – so this evening I told the chair that I would resign from the role. I will do whatever is needed to ensure an orderly handover.”
RA is responsible for rights related to the national men’s and women’s rugby union teams, including sevens rugby, and the Australia territory rights to Super League rugby, as well as the national women’s league (Super W) and other national competitions.
Castle, the former chief executive of National Rugby League (NRL) club Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Netball New Zealand, took up the role in January 2017, becoming the first woman to lead Rugby Australia and the first female chief executive across all of the major national unions in rugby.
But she has suffered a tumultuous tenure, facing various commercial, sporting and legal challenges.
SportBusiness estimates RA lost almost A$5m (€2.95m/$3.19m) in sponsorship revenue last year, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. This was based on the exit of banking group HSBC, a decreased fee from Australian airline Qantas and other non-renewals.
The body was also forced to suspend talks over its next broadcast rights deal, with Castle conceding that the deadline had been scrapped to allow media companies to focus on issues to do with the pandemic.
The suspension left RA as the only only member of the Sanzaar umbrella body of the South African, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina rugby unions yet to finalise a new rights deal.
The organisation has announced emergency measures in response to the coronavirus shutdown, standing down 75 per cent of staff for three months from April 1, with Castle herself taking a 50-per-cent pay cut. The outgoing chief executive has previously suggested the governing body may need to approach the Australian government for assistance.
In addition, the Australian men’s 15-a-side national team, the Wallabies, have performed poorly in comparison with other eras, while RA has been dogged by a damaging dispute with former player Israel Folau over homophobic social media posts. Folau took Rugby Australia to court in an unfair dismissal claim and is reported to have secured A$8m in a settlement.
Earlier this week a group of 11 former Wallaby captains led by Rugby World-Cup winning captain Nick Farr-Jones delivered a vote-of-no-confidence letter to Castle and the RA board.
“In recent times, the Australian game has lost its way. It is a defeat inflicted not by Covid-19, or an on-field foe, but rather by poor administration and leadership over a number of years,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted the letter as saying.
“We speak as one voice when we say Australian rugby needs new vision, leadership and a plan for the future. That plan must involve, as a priority, urgent steps to create a much-needed, sustainable, commercial rugby business.”