Almanac Rugby Union: Rugby Disunion – Worrying Trends


I don’t know whether it’s COVID-19 depression setting in, but am I alone in being miserable about the backwards trajectory of women in sport?


This week’s resignation of Raelene Castle as CEO of Rugby Australia (RA) has given us pause to think about women in sport and women’s sport more generally.


I doubt there’s an administrator in the land – male or female – who would have escaped the Israel Folau debacle without finger pointing.  The broadcast rights for RA are also a minefield, with many ex-players and Wallabies’ captains on the commentary team for Fox Sports.  This is the company that holds the broadcast licence due to expire this year.  Ms Castle took the contract to open tender, irritating many of those ex-players who then wrote to the RA Board, demanding change.  She also recently negotiated a pay deal with the players’ association to enable RA to obtain a loan to keep it afloat during these trying COVID times.


One notable shock jock complained last week that Ms Castle knows nothing about the game – suggesting it was akin to appointing someone who can’t read music to be first violinist for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.  There was considerable trolling about the fact that she is a woman and a ‘strange looking’ one too.  Her actions over the broadcast licence and keeping the organisation afloat show that she knows a huge amount about the game.  Transparency on the broadcast licence is a useful thing.  And what?  She negotiated with the players to ensure the future of the game.


I’m calling it:  a male CEO of RA would not have had to suffer the vitriol or criticism that Ms Castle has tolerated.  It made me think back to the Tracy Gaudrey saga which I wrote about in 2017.  These are both capable women with a skill set that you’d want.  As Carrie Graf (most successful WNBL coach) says, coaching and executive positions in sport don’t have a gender.  Yet, clearly they do in Australia.


There have been discussions during the week about the resumption of the AFLM and NRLM.  Commentators have been dripping with excitement and despair – in equal loads.  Yet, the AFLW was closed down with nary a thought to how that would affect the players, their teams and supporters.  There were no finals matches; thus, no premiership.  Some are anxious about how many rounds the AFLM will get in this year to make the competition worthwhile.  Bad luck for the women, though.  Most of them were sacked – including the coaches.


I fear that once we get past the pandemic stage of COVID and the footy comes back, the women will be left on the shelf again; probably with the excuse that we just can’t afford it at the moment.


I would like to see the AFL approach the resumption of this great game holistically:  that is, looking at how the game can be re-focussed to genuinely embrace AFLW at the same level as AFLM.


Maybe I’ve got a fever – imagining such ridiculousness.


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About Anne Cahill Lambert

One of the first females to be admitted to membership of the G. Thank you Mr Cain. Nicknamed The Hyphen by Alamanac Editor, despite the fact I don't have one.


  1. Ann I think the afl have been excellent in the support of women’s footy and they have been v open that
    AFLW is v high on there list of priorities of the game going forward they are v v aware that women’s footy is easily the highest growth area in sport in general alas we will have to wait until the dust settles and we know how the financial side of it settles all sport is in for a lot of changes in general.Raelene Castle wise who knows at times she has seemed to really struggle in the role in general or whether the media painted her that way not sure how much of it was gender based certainly a interesting discussion point thank you

  2. By far you are not alone, Anne!

    Given that I confused Castle with Alexander during a session of Offsiders …

    [no, leaders are not interchangeable. Not the good ones. And Lisa Alexander is a very good one!]

    [and Castle does have a distinct look as in that Order of New Zealand picture. Reminds me of several professors I have had in my time – especially an author called Michelle Smith – except Dr Smith’s hair is purple!]

    “She also recently negotiated a pay deal with the players’ association to enable RA to obtain a loan to keep it afloat during these trying COVID times.”

    I hope this is what people will remember. Money does follow the code – and the code has not been following the money so much.

    “Her actions over the broadcast licence and keeping the organisation afloat show that she knows a huge amount about the game.”

    Yes – the Rebels were able to stay and play part of their 10th season – and that would bring in big broadcasting issues; good and bad.

    As for the Australian Football League and the support of women’s football:

    So much of it came from the grassroots; from local football and state football.

    Any good figures, Rulebook?

    Also the Players’ Association had bargained *hard* ahead of the 2020 season. Still only $17,000 for your average female player – let alone for the Tayla Harrises and the Daisy Pearces.

    I have a feeling the media did paint Castle that way – especially when it comes to News Corporation and Foxtel.

    When I read the third paragraph – too much conflict of interest!

    Thinking of those three Queenslanders who wrote the letter / petition.

    Did see a good clip showing Ms Castle.

    Will read the Tracey Gaudrey – may give some history and some perspective.

  3. Raelene Castle was on a hiding to nothing.
    Did she make mistakes? Of course she did. Who doesn’t?

    But, you are correct Anne: I am sad to say I agree that a male would not have copped as much criticism as Castle did during her tenure, especially had the male been an ex-player. It certainly is not Castle’s fault that rugby is in the doldrums in this country – it has been for years. Unfortunately, with such issues as broadcast rights and the Folau saga, Castle was never given a clear run at it.
    Good luck to her successor – he will need it.

    And good luck to Raelene Castle for the future.

  4. Jarren Bastow says

    AFLW contracts are not full year contracts, they end in May. Ditto many of the coaches. So they weren’t sacked, their contracts ended. This is also why the AFLW season ended, there was no time to finish the season, and players and coaches would be out of contract before it could be resumed.

  5. Yvette Wroby says

    Thanks Ann, it is happening not just in sports. I have read many a recent article about the changes to women’s roles at work and home due to lockdowns …It also felt like there was a rush to get to the ‘real’ footy before we ended up with nothing. I will certainly let my club know if the women’s game is unfairly compromised further than it’s always been. I hope the AFL look after the W as much as the M.

    On the positive side St Kilda has kept the media coverage of the Saints women going and that has said a lot to me about their value within the organisation in these strange times.

    I know very little about Rugby but I do know how loud and bullying campaigns against certain women can be. Take care

  6. Not strange Adelaide, Raelene has alopecia. If she was a bloke she could front a band, maybe get into Parliament and no one would worry or comment derisively on their appearance.
    Anne, thanks for the piece. Seems like the old story of women having to work twice as hard as the men to prove themselves. And then still have to deal with the bull of men feeling threatened by uppity women.

  7. Anne Cahill Lambert says

    Thanks everyone for comments:
    Jarren: actually the women were sacked. Contracts were not allowed to run until the end of May. And the VFLW players (and many coaches) have also been sacked. So there is no even handedness there at all.

  8. I’m in agreement with,Jarren re the women’s footy contracts also we must remember a lot of people with in the footy industry have been stood down.I also emphasize I am a huge supporter and regular attendee of womens footy and v glad that the afl have stated it’s v high on there priority list moving forward

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