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Thread: Raelene Castle key to cut-price $3m deal for exiled Israel Folau

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    Raelene Castle key to cut-price $3m deal for exiled Israel Folau

    Raelene Castle key to cut-price $3m deal for exiled Israel Folau
    WAYNE SMITH

    Follow @WayneKeithSmith

    Rugby Australia executive director Raelene Castle negotiated a considerably lower settlement fee with Israel Folau than even her own board had authorised.

    As one RA director told The Weekend Australian, Castle was given freedom to negotiate within a certain range of money but ended up pleasantly surprising the board by reporting back with a much smaller figure than they had been bracing for – believed to be around $3 million.

    “She was given flexibility but she worked well within it,” the director said.

    Initially press reports on Thursday suggested that RA would have to pay out $8m to Folau but clearly no one in their right mind would have seriously entertained such a figure. Desperate as the rugby authorities were to make the whole sorry mess go away, they would surely have taken their chances in the Federal Court rather than settle for such an outrageous sum.

    Further digging produced what would seem to be a far more reasonable amount of $3.1m, which curiously enough was a figure bounced around right at the beginning of this saga.

    Given that Folau would have been paid $5m had his contract run its course, the suspicion is that this would have been around the upper limit imposed by the RA board. That she came in well under that is a mark in her favour, although clearly RA’s legal bill – thought to be around $1m – still has to be paid.

    The unexpected move to sidestep the legal system first took serious shape when the RA board held a phone hook-up at 8am Sydney time last Friday, November 29. Three days earlier, the company secretary Patrick Eyres had downloaded to each board member a seven-page report outlining the pros and cons of settling out of court. Multiple scenarios were considered, so too multiple payout amounts – all of them factoring in that Rugby Australia had taken out insurance against this very possibility.

    Before the board gave Castle her riding instructions, it systematically worked through the report. The risks were outlined, so too the potential rewards. Uppermost in everyone’s mind was the fact that Super Rugby starts next month, which meant a February test case of the Folau matter in the Melbourne courts was to be avoided at – nearly – all cost.

    To settle would eliminate the costs of going to trial and potentially of any appeal. It would also allow RA to negotiate with sponsors without the massive distraction of the game being on the front pages for all the wrong reasons. So the directors had all the facts in front of them before giving Castle permission to do her job.

    Which is more than can be said of Castle’s critics …

    I have taken issue with Castle on any number of issues and, like all rugby CEOs, she will live or die by her performance in negotiating a broadcast deal in the coming weeks. But it is impossible to stand by idly any longer while she is subjected to an unrelenting barrage of irrational, unfounded attacks for merely doing her job.

    But first, a point of procedural fairness. Technically speaking, Folau wasn’t her employee when he twice posted on Instagram a warning to homosexuals that they were destined for hell unless they repented. He was actually a NSW Waratah at the time.

    Under the tripartite contracts that rugby runs, a player is employed by his Super Rugby franchise during the provincial campaign and by RA only during the international season. When he posted those remarks in April 2018 and April 2019 – seemingly, each passing birthday on April 3 has an unsettling effect on him – it should have been NSW’s problem to clean up, specifically that of former CEO Andrew Hore. But in each case, Castle stepped up to the plate, despite the fact that she had been in office less than three months when this ordeal began.

    Yet if blame or praise is to be attached to this settlement, it would simply be unfair to point solely at Castle. Not only did she take orders from her own board but the NSWRU board also had to sign off on the agreement as well. She was far from a lone wolf.

    Back in April 2018, Castle was faced with a problem that every chief executives dreads. An employee had said something that ran counter to the company’s goals and standards. He was cautioned, indeed a formal letter was sent to him. He apologised. He vowed not to do it again. And then he backtracked, because barely six months after signing a new contract, he did exactly the same thing again.

    All of these things can be laid at Folau’s door, not Castle’s. He could have said: “You know what, I can’t accept these terms. And in accordance with my promise never to hurt the game of rugby, I’ll just walk away.” But he didn’t. He continued to take RA’s money, right up to the point where it sacked him. And when it came this week to saying sorry at the kiss-and-make-up stage, rugby never apologised or recanted for taking what it considered a principled stand.

    Castle and RA have been attacked as “an insensitive, incompetent and virtue-seeking outfit” and while it’s now open to reasonably debate their “woke” stance where inclusiveness is concerned, I’m figuring that around 61.6 per cent of Australians would have approved. That stat – from the “Yes” vote in the same same-sex marriage referendum – also means that more than one in three were opposed and that’s not a percentage any sport should diss. So there are lessons to be learned here for rugby and all other sports: stick to your core business.

    Everyone is now waiting for the Folau clause to be introduced in Scott Morrison’s legislation to protect employees who say things that run counter to company policy. That will surely put Castle and her like-minded crew of do-gooders in their place. But tell me … how should that legislation treat an employee who calls for infidels to be beheaded?

    When the independent research group True North did its “emotional connection” research in September this year, it discovered – as Alan Jones pointed out in his column on Friday – that the Wallabies rated only sixth with Australians.

    Curiously, he gave no credit to RA for the fact that the women’s 15-a-side Wallaroos and the Olympic gold medal-winning women’s sevens rugby team both figure in the top five along with the Matildas, the Socceroos and the Australian T20 cricket side.

    He also failed to mention that when True North carried out its previous research, in April this year, the Wallabies rated only 13th. So, let’s see … when Folau came out and said all homosexuals-drunkards-liars etc were headed for hell back in April, rugby’s support collapsed to 13th. But when a Folau-less Wallabies had embarked on their World Cup campaign and RA was gearing up to go to war with Folau, they rose dramatically to sixth.

    Castle, remember, didn’t want to keep Michael Cheika as Wallabies coach 12 months ago. But she just couldn’t find anyone, permanent or part-time, to take over from him on such short notice. So she and the board stuck with him and tried to give him all the help they could. Yet though he gave her nothing but grief, she is attacked – wrongly – for reappointing him.

    Curiously, True North did an analysis of 3016 tweets, 896 Facebook comments and 928 Instagram posts following the appointment of Cheika’s successor, Dave Rennie, and discovered that 36 per cent loved his appointment, 10 per cent were happy/excited by it, 40 per cent expressed hope while only eight per cent were shocked and 6 per cent were angry. Seems like Australians have moved beyond a demand for an Australian coach. Like Castle, they’ll settle for one who wins.

    Sporting administrators who rort the salary cap or condone drug cheating deserve all the flak they get in the media. But in 49 years of covering sport, I have never seen any official treated as viciously as Castle, merely for doing her job.

    It is not her fault Australia have not won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002. It was not her fault that Folau, on his second chance, again said homosexuals were doomed to hell unless they repented. In a way she has blazed a trail every CEO needs to study, even if the lesson many took away was to do the exact opposite. Remember though, no CEO before her had ever found themselves in such a predicament.

    Criticise her if the Wallabies continue to fail. Criticise her if the Super Rugby franchises struggle to stay afloat. Criticise her if the green shoots turn brown. But leave the personal attacks out of it. That’s nothing but bullying, pure and simple.

    WAYNE SMITH
    SENIOR SPORT WRITER

    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/spo...14cc0fd8cce356

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