Rugby Australia's (RA) Raelene Castle is the victim of staunch sexism, according to former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons.
Castle, the former boss of Netball NZ, is reportedly set to be fired from her role as RA chief executive, with the game in a grim fight for its survival.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out local domestic competitions, scrapped a multi-million dollar broadcast deal and halted talks of a deal past the 2020 season.
Wallabies great Phil Kearns, who has no experience in the corporate world, has been heavily linked to the role, but FitzSimons believes there is a witch hunt at play.
The outspoken rugby player-turned-writer told Nine's Sports Sunday that many in "the rugby community" wanted Castle gone, due to her gender and also the sacking of superstar Israel Folau, amid a homophobia saga before last year's Rugby World Cup.
"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 in-built discrimination that, '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."
Sydney Morning Herald rugby writer Georgina Robinson was quick to dismiss FitzSimons' view, pointing to Castle's perceived lack of results in the 23 months she has been in charge.
"Raelene Castle's main problem - 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 replied.
"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."
FitzSimons bit back, doubling down on his sexism claims.
"It is to do, it's a lot to do with it," he retorted.
"I can tell you, in terms of emails I get and what people say to me, there are 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."
On a reported AU$800,000-per-year contract with Rugby Australia, Castle has taken a 50 percent pay cut during the shutdown. The CEO copped a bad break pre-shutdown when she rejected an offer from existing broadcast partner Fox Sports, then a possible new offer from Optus Sports was pulled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Saturday, the former head of NRL's Sydney Bulldogs said her focus remained on governing the game, not speculation.
"Look, there's a lot of noise and distraction right now," Castle told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"But at the end of the day, the RA board and management are 100 percent focused on what we need to do right now, which is secure the future of the game and navigate our way through this unprecedented global crisis that has hit sport, business and the community so hard.
"It's as simple as that."