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Folau issue the \"most difficult situation\" of Castle's career

Wed, 09/05/2018, 1:14 pm
Sam Phillips
by Sam Phillips
Raelene Castle admits fans may be lost to the game due to Israel Folau's strong anti-gay views. Photo: Getty Images
Raelene Castle admits fans may be lost to the game due to Israel Folau's strong anti-gay views. Photo: Getty Images

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle admits some fans may be lost to the game as Israel Folau continues to push his strong anti-gay views on social media.

In a lengthy interview on Fox Sports' Kick and Chase, Castle spoke about dealing with the "most difficult" situation of her career - the delicate balancing act the Folau situation has become.

"What I can say is - in my career this is the singularly most difficult thing I've ever had to deal with and that's because there is no black and white answer," Castle said.

"On one hand it's a human rights issue but on the other hand, you're dealing with freedom of speech.

"Someone is right to express their views - whether it be religious or otherwise - the test continues to be whether that's done in a respectful way.Israel Folau is causing quite the headache for Rugby Australia. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley"That's the measure we will continue to apply."

In response to one fan question, Castle admitted there may be some fans that turn their back on the Wallabies if Folau is not sanctioned by Rugby Australia.

"There is a chance that we lose a part of the community," Castle said.

"We've had conversations with Izzy about presenting his views in a respectful way.

"He is walking the line, we will continue the dialogue.

"There's the gay community which we want to be very respectful of and make sure we are a very inclusive environment where people feel comfortable and want to be part of rugby.

"But at the same time we have a large group of people who may share Israel's views.

"We don't want to exclude those people."

Castle also weighed in on any potential change to the structure of Super Rugby, with rumours rife regarding South Africa's involvement beyond the current broadcast deal, which ends in 2020.

On the top of the priority list from an Australian perspective, per Castle, is "uncertainty of outcome".

"It needs to be a competition that has uncertainty of outcome," Castle said.

"We need teams that are performing consistently and that any team - be that South Africa, New Zealand or Australia - have the capability to win.

"We certainly haven't had that over the last couple of years with the New Zealand team performances and that's what doesn't involve crowds, doesn't sell tickets and doesn't get people watching on television."

Castle is passionate about keeping Australia's best schoolboy talent in rugby. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyWhile South Africa bring in a large chunk of the broadcast revenue, Castle said Australia must present a product which draws eyeballs against the heavyweight presence of AFL and NRL.

"The reality is for us - we are in a very different marketplace with different priorities," she said.

"And the two big shadows of the other codes that we have in this country that our other two partners don't have," Castle said.

At the grassroots level, Castle also spoke of her passion in ensuring rugby keeps its best schoolboys and hinted that more funding may be devoted to keeping the prying eyes of the NRL away.

"It's something I'm passionate having understood from a previous role an organised plan to steal the best rugby talent and we need to make sure we lock them up and keep them and ensure we back ourselves to secure that talent, contract it and grow and develop it into the Super Rugby clubs," she said.

If we can pick our four best rugby stars every year and that becomes eight and that becomes 12 and that becomes 16, suddenly, very quickly, you're seeding that best talent."

Rugby Australia has also facilitated conversations between Quade Cooper, the Brumbies and the Rebels, though Castle admitted there had been little interest on the star flyhalf's end.

"We can't command (a move) to happen," she said.

"He's contracted with the Reds and if he wants to stay there and play club rugby that's what he's allowed to do in the contract.

"As an athlete himself you would think he would want to be presenting himself on the best stage and playing in the highest level of competition - that's what high performance athletes are about."

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