OPINION: Australian rugby is in need of a new leader but the big question is whether the incoming chief executive should be a “rugby person” or from another field with fresh ideas to bring the code out of the doldrums.
When Australia Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver resigned on Friday it did not come as a complete shock.
It is understood Pulver told the board some time ago of his intention to stand down but he was made to stick around until the trigger had been pulled regarding which Super Rugby team would be axed.
The ARU is already looking for new candidates and will look to fill the role sooner than later as rugby in Australia looks to set itself on a new trajectory.
Names have already been bandied around, however a number of potential candidates say they would prefer to not get involved in a public campaign for Australian rugby’s top job.
The ARU board has two options when it appoints a new chief executive. With rugby struggling for relevance, and its image in tatters following a bad Super Rugby season and increased tension between clubs and the ARU, someone who has a deep understanding of the business and rugby’s stakeholders is an option.
Someone like Greg Harris, the former NSW Waratahs and Rugby Union Players’ Association chief executive, fits the bill.
So too does Western Force boss Mark Sinderberry and former Queensland Rugby Union CEO Jim Carmichael.
A candidate with a genuine understanding of rugby in this country, some believe, is the only way to start to solve some of the problems facing the code.
Hands-on experience and an intrinsic awareness of how rugby operates from community level to the professional sphere is exactly what a number of important rugby types want to see in a new leader.
Alternatively, there is the potential for a chief executive to come from a different background, albeit with runs on the board in being able to run other businesses successfully.
Outgoing Canterbury Bulldogs boss Raelene Castle has been flagged as a potential replacement for Pulver, which would make her the first female chief executive of a major Australian football code.
It is understood Castle, a proud Kiwi, has ambitions of one day becoming the boss of New Zealand Rugby.
Whether she would see the role of ARU CEO as a stepping stone to that job is unclear but an outsider’s perspective might be exactly what the code needs.
However, Castle is about to leave a club with its own dramas and she may not be keen to jump straight into another role where the pressure is on her from the starter’s gun to fix rugby’s woes.
There is also a view that a person who has worked in rugby administration before may actually be less attracted to apply for the role because they would be more aware of the size and scale of the problems that need addressing.
That is not to say rugby’s troubles are not well-known across the Australian sporting landscape.
A number of potential candidates contacted by Fairfax Media said they would need to know how the organisation would look in the future given Pulver and two other high-profiled executives in Todd Day (chief financial officer) and Rob Clarke (chief operating officer) will not be around in 2018.
Pulver polarised many people in the rugby fraternity. While his passion for the game was undeniable, his lack of experience as a rugby administrator was an easy way for his critics to point the finger when things went pear-shaped.
Above all, as one coach put it, Australian rugby’s new leader needs to “understand the culture of our game” in order to fully utilise the untapped resources many believe are there for the game’s benefit.
– Sydney Morning Herald