Raelene Castle has stepped down as the CEO of Rugby Australia, as the travails of rugby union Down Under continue.
The 15-player code has been struggling in recent years to maintain a prominent place in the Australian sporting landscape, with financial issues and a general lack of wider public interest stymieing progress.
The end to Castle’s two-and-a-half year spell in charge of the game’s governing body in Australia came to an end on Thursday April 23, as it became clear that she no longer enjoyed the support of Rugby Australia’s board.
Calls for change
A group of 11 former Wallaby internationals, including ex-captains such as Nick Farr-Jones, Simon Poidevin and George Gregan, sent a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week calling for change at Rugby Australia.
Highlighting that rugby union in Australia had lost its way in recent years, the former Test stars stated: “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.”
On Thursday, Castle met with Super Rugby chief executives as part of the process of planning the sport in the southern hemisphere’s path through the current Covid-19 outbreak.
There was no hint that she was set to depart from her post, though there has been speculation in recent weeks that she was coming under increasing pressure, given the problems that the code faces in Australia.
Later on Thursday, however, she withdrew from a meeting with state chairmen to that was set to discuss Rugby Australia’s 2019 balance sheet and poor financial position.
It was soon after that that she gave an interview to the ABC just before her resignation.
“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,” said Castle, in a statement provided to the ABC.
“The game is bigger than any one individual – so this evening I told the chair that I would resign from the role.”
Issues facing rugby union in Australia over the last year have included a costly legal battle with Israel Folau, after he was sacked for controversial comments he made. He is now playing rugby league in the northern hemisphere, with Super League outfit Catalans Dragons.
Continuing problems in Australia
Other issues facing the sport Down Under have included the Wallabies’ poor performance in the last Word Cup and the failure to find a TV broadcasting deal for rugby union in Australia.
Castle was at pains to stress that David Rennie would remain in his post as coach of the national team, however.
Rennie is, according to Castle, excited about the amount of young talent coming through in the Australian game, and will stay put.
The New Zealander has previously coached the Chiefs in his homeland as well as Scottish side Glasgow Warriors.
Rugby Australia is yet to make an official comment on Castle’s departure.