Peter FitzSimons says a lot of the vitriol directed at Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle is simply because she’s a woman.
Rugby Australia has taken a massive financial hit over the past 12 months and embattled chief executive Castle is in the firing line over her handling of pay cuts.
A number of the game’s high-profile figures are now calling for Castle’s axing and removal of the board.
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Castle has faced a series of challenges since her appointment in 2017 - most notably the Israel Folau saga - but nothing compares to the coronavirus crisis that has halted all sport at every level in Australia.
According to former Wallaby FitzSimons, Castle’s handling of the Folau saga and the simple fact she’s a woman have led to many ‘in the rugby community’ wanting her gone.
“If you were to measure the antipathy against Raelene Castle - about a half of it, in my view, is because she’s a woman and there is an in-built discrimination ‘We can't have a woman running rugby’,” FitzSimons said on Sports Sunday.
“The other half is the Israel Folau issue. She was the one that said, 'Israel, here's your hat ... you've got to leave'.
“In my strong view, she had absolutely no choice but to move Israel Folau on, but there's an enduring resentment over that from some quarters.”
Rugby writer says Castle furore not about gender
However Sydney Morning Herald writer Georgina Robinson disagreed.
“Raelene Castle's main problem as well - it’s not her gender - it's that she doesn't have any major runs on the board that a Joe and a Jill in the street, rugby fan, can look at and go, ‘She did that’,” Robinson said.
“She appointed a new coach and she's got up and running a magnificent new high performance structure that rugby hasn't had since about the Ewen McKenzie era. Robbie Deans had a high performance manager, no one's had it since then.
“But Dave Rennie won't coach a football team this year. Dave Rennie won't coach the Wallabies this year. She needed a broadcast deal, she doesn't have one yet.
“But she may not get any time to get any runs on the board, because she doesn't have any big ones on yet. That's the major problem. It's nothing to do with her gender. Right now, whether she survives beyond the end of the year is not about her gender.”
But FitzSimons wasn’t buying it, saying he had proof from disgruntled fans.
“It is to do, it's a lot to do with it,” he replied.
“I can tell you, in terms of emails I get and what people say to me, there is a lot of people in the rugby community who say, ‘We can't have a woman running rugby’.
“I'm not making it up. That's the truth of it.”
Earlier this week, some 75 per cent of RA's non-player workforce were stood down and the governing body announced a $9.4 million loss.
RA has also been publicly butting heads with the Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) regarding pay cuts for players.
Israel Folau’s payout in jeopardy
Folau's multi-million dollar payout from Rugby Australia could reportedly take a major hit if the sport's governing body is forced into insolvency.
The former fullback ace was sacked by RA last year over his homophobic social media posts, including one stating hell awaits homosexuals.
The two parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement in December after the Folau sued RA for religious discrimination.
While the terms weren't made public, it's understood to be around $3m, which is the remainder of his four year contract.
According to The Australian, the settlement is being paid off in instalments with those payments at risk should RA go under.
Should RA be forced to declare itself insolvent, Folau would become an unsecured creditor and depending on its assets, he'd likely be paid out only a few cents in the dollar.