Rugby: Raelene Castle victim of industry double standards, says Women in Sport Aotearoa CEO

A leading advocate for New Zealand women's sport believes resigned Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle was a victim of industry double standards.

On Thursday night, Castle stood down from her role in what many believed was a case of jumping before she was pushed. 

The Kiwi had been widely criticised for her handling of last year's Israel Folau saga and ensuing settlement, and her rejection of Fox Sports’ broadcast deal beyond this season.

The organisation's financial turmoil, resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, exacerbated Castle's tenuous situation, leading some of her colleagues to suggest she'd simply become the scapegoat for a fast-approaching crisis.

Women in Sport New Zealand chief executive Rachel Froggatt claims the criticism Castle endured stretched far beyond simply her performance in the role.

"I think what we've seen with Raelene is she's held to a far higher standard than you would find with a male chief executive in the same situation," Froggatt has told Newshub.

"Not only has she been judged on her professional performance and the way in which she's managed significant issues... but everything about her as an individual seems to have been up for comment, from the way she wears her hair, what clothing she wears, what she looks like, how she stands, how she communicates in meetings.

"It's that level of scrutiny that has been quite shocking to watch and that's the question I have to ask - why are female leaders looked at so differently than male leaders in the same situation?"

Earlier this week, a group of former Wallabies captains wrote to Rugby Australia, demanding administrative change, while former Wallabies coach and long-time critic Alan Jones said Castle "knows nothing about the game".

Froggat claims such attacks have exposed questionable behaviour, which may deter other females pursuing such roles in sports.

"What's been interesting here is the critics in this situation have been held to a much lower standard than critics of male CEOs.

'"Over the last few weeks in particular, we've seen some terrible behaviour from critics within the Rugby Australia landscape and the media.

"It's a sad example for other women in the sport industry, who have ambitions to go into a leadership role of this calibre. Now they may be asking themselves, 'Is this the type of environment I want to enter and the type of challenge I want to face?'"

While Froggatt stops short of labelling the situation an example of sexism, she says it's exposed a concerning trend in the sports industry.

"What it does do is show the weaknesses within the sports system about how people operate around a female leader such as that, and the support systems that may or may not be in place for that individual.

"The question I'd ask is whether [female leaders in other industries] would be subject to the same levels of almost workplace harassment.

"Does the sports system need to have a really good look at itself in terms of the way it protects and manages its senior employees in these situations. I do think this is behaviour you wouldn't necessarily see in a business context."

Either way, Froggatt says Castle should be held up as a glowing example to other aspiring female leaders.

"There's an awful lot of admiration for Raelene Castle, because she's held herself so professionally and so confidently through all of this… continued to go ahead and do her job, and do it as well as she's been able to, whether you agree it's the right way or not.

"I think that's something that female leaders should look at and really take some inspiration from as well.

"She's a great inspiration for aspiring female leaders in Australia and New Zealand."