Sacking Raelene won’t do much, RA needs far bigger structural and organisational change

By Sam Ryan

This week certainly hasn’t been one of Australian rugby’s proudest but in time, it may prove to be one of its most important. 

Ralene Castle’s reign at Moore Park appeared to be doomed from the moment a handful of ex-Wallaby captains delivered a scathing yet detail light letter to interim chairman Paul McLean. 

In the current climate, it’s hard to imagine many high level executives surviving such an attack and Castle didn’t. 

In her three years in charge, Castle was far from perfect but she also didn’t create the mess she inherited. 

As a female CEO, she was attacked differently and personally and that was wrong and a sad indication of where large parts of society remain. 

But removing Castle won’t solve many if any of Australian rugby’s issues. 

As head of Rugby Australia, she was the first to fall on her sword but to turn this thing around many, many more need to meet a similar fate. 

I understand that I’m calling for a lot of good people, many of them rugby people, to lose their jobs in one of the most difficult periods that most of us will live through. 

But we need massive, massive change for our game to survive. 

If this were a corporation, the rugby community would be referred to as shareholders rather than stakeholders. 

Shareholders get an opportunity to shape the direction of the corporation by electing the board. 

The board then appoints a CEO, who manages a team of executives, who manage their employees. 

The employees are accountable to the executives, the executives are accountable to the CEO, the CEO is accountable to the board and the board is accountable to the shareholders. 

None of this occurs in Australian rugby and that is why there is little to no accountability or understanding at most levels of the organisation of just how bad things really are. 

Keep in mind Rugby Australia scored themselves 72/100 for their performance last year and 78/100 the year before that. 

They live in a bubble and most of them have been there for quite some time. 

I’ve worked in rugby through Rugby News for just over six years now and there are very few current Rugby Australia executives that weren’t employed the very first time I walked in there. 

Think of where rugby in Australia has gone in the last six years and after all of it, the same people are still running our game. 

I’m young and have little if any corporate experience but Blind Freddy can see that it just doesn’t make sense. 

They’re not accountable and a lot of them need to go but at this stage no one is walking away from a job. 

So how can we restructure the game to ensure things improve and accountability increases.

I’ve got three ideas to start. 

• Scrap Super Rugby and privatise our professional competition

• Restructure corporate governance

• Cut the size and costs of Rugby Australia

Scrap Super Rugby and privatise our professional competition

This isn’t really my idea but I’ve written about it before and it makes a lot of sense. 

Super Rugby was created in the 1990s as a reaction to the Mungoes’ Super League war. It was also tailor made and sold to News Limited, or Fox Sports in Australia. 

News limited, who the competition was built for, have made it pretty clear that they don’t see a whole lot of value in the competition in its current form, so surely something has to change. 

A privately owned professional competition played in one time zone across Australia, New Zealand and Asia would allow Rugby Australia to reduce their costs dramatically, without reducing rugby’s footprint in Australia. 

The state bodies, who I’ll talk about shortly, would then be able to focus on running and growing the game in their states, without being tied down by the massive losses each Super Rugby side currently incurs each year. 

Anyone got Twiggy’s number? 

Restructure corporate governance

This to me is the major issue but it doesn’t work fully without my first point. 

The constitution that guides the governance of Rugby Australia must be changed dramatically to give a greater say to the majority of people who are actually involved in rugby in Australia. 

Currently it works a little something like this. 

The chairman of the Rugby Australia board selects the chair of the board selection committee. 

The chair of the board selection committee selects the board selection committee. 

The board selection committee then reviews all applications to join the Rugby Australia board and creates a short list to take to the “voting member unions”, who then vote on who is elected to the Rugby Australia board. 

Confused yet? 

The “voting member unions” are made up of the state bodies, the Super Rugby licensees and RUPA. Each member union gets one vote, except for any state body with more than 50,000 participants. 

The issue here is, the state bodies and the Super Rugby licensees both tend to sing from the same song book and are both largely influenced by the on and off field performances of their Super Rugby sides. 

If our professional competition was privatised, the Super Rugby licensees would lose their vote and the priorities of the state bodies would change from scraping together as much cash as possible to run a Super Rugby organisation that is losing money year on year, to actually running and growing the game in their states. 

When they vote, they then vote for the interests of the stakeholders or shareholders in their states. 

While privatising our professional competition might not be for everyone, you could still shake things up massively by restructuring the Rugby Australia board election process. 

Rather than the chairman of the board selecting a person to select the people that can be nominated to his or her board (yep, you read that right), why not give grassroots representatives from each state a seat on the board selection committee alongside those from RUPA and the Super Rugby outfits. 

Or going even further, why not give a representative from grassroots clubs from each state a vote when electing the Rugby Australia board. 

If those on the board are accountable to the representatives from the grassroots clubs, they’d be largely accountable to the majority of us who are actually involved in rugby. 

At the very least, it should be mandatory that every Rugby Australia board member, CEO and executive is an active, and I mean active, member of an Australian grassroots rugby club. 

Don’t have time?

That’s fine, we’ve got plenty of committed rugby people with fairly attractive resumes ready to take your place. 

Cut the size and costs of Rugby Australia

If the shiny new Rugby Australia building in one of the most expensive parts of Australia isn’t a sign that our administration has grown too big, then I don’t know what is. 

Sure, it was paid in part by a grant from the NSW state government, but how do we possibly ask them for money again in the next decade or two after they’ve just spent plenty of it to give the Rugby Australia execs a nice view?

We need to significantly reduce the size and costs of Rugby Australia and can do so by increasing the accountability on the executives and employees that remain. Rugby isn’t alone here, the AFL and NRL are about to undergo similar cost cutting measures, but we need to go harder. 

Have a think about coaches for a minute. 

At Rugby Australia, they don’t get sacked, they get redeployed. 

When Stephen Larkham lost his job as Wallabies backs coach, RA created a new role for him as national high-performance coach adviser. 

When Larkham left, RA sacked Nathan Grey as Wallabies defence coach, and moved him into Larkham’s former cushy role. 

I’m not bagging either man, nine year old me would never forgive myself, but it does say something about the culture in the place. 

I’ve never coached a national rugby team and probably never will. But I struggle a little to understand what a 5-6 man Wallabies coaching staff does Monday to Friday in February when the Wallabies don’t play a Test until late July? 

I’ll give you the head coach, but what about his three or four assistants? 

Surely they have some time to coach the Australian U20s side, but no, we’ve got another few guys employed 12 months of the year to do that too. 

Again, this is not an attack on individuals, every sport is going through this and things are going to have to change.

But in rugby, we’re not struggling like the other codes, we’re sinking and sinking fast. 

And if we want the future generations to fall in love with rugby and the next Stephen Larkham like I did as a nine year old, then serious change must occur.