What Ms Castle could have written…

IMG_4761Following Raelene Castle’s letter to Wallabies fans yesterday, where she failed to show any appreciation to the Australian side, this is the letter that I believe would have been more befitting the CEO. This is what she could have written…

Dear Wallabies fans

As we lower the curtain on another World Cup, can I ask you to please join me in thanking so many who’ve worked so hard. It has been a tough campaign and it’s been far more than a few weeks or months. It’s been four years in the making. We expect more and more of our professional players and coaching staff. The competition has become incredibly fierce. The quality of rugby keeps getting better and better. Our teams keep being pushed harder and harder as the game gets tougher and tougher. Join me in thanking everyone involved for their grit and determination during four tough years of international rugby.

Let me begin by expressing gratitude to Michael Cheika and his coaching team. Being a professional coach is often a thankless task. I laud the long hours spent by our coaches, medical staff, and trainers, devoted to maximising every opportunity to put the best prepared team on the paddock every time we play.

Let us express our congratulations and gratitude to Michael Hooper and his team of players. You have represented your country with pride. Sheer guts and determination, game after game, season after season, year after year. And thank you to the players in the squad who haven’t taken the field, or who haven’t seen much game time. We understand how it takes many more than 23 players to win any serious competition, let alone a world cup. Every one of you has played your part. Thank you to the players in Super Rugby, the NRC, and club rugby, for challenging one another, and lifting our standard of competition.

Thank you to those in our team who have endured special hardship to represent our country. To Christian Lealiifano for your inspirational journey back from leukemia to play flyhalf in a World Cup quarter final. To David Pocock, for your difficult journey through injury and rehab, to put your body on the line for one more World Cup campaign. To the unrecognised and unheralded players who have gone above and beyond for our entertainment and joy in this great game.

Many of our players have played their last game for Australia. We want to say thank you for representing us so well on the world stage and to wish you all the best for your futures, both in rugby and beyond.

Our thanks must go further. So, to the wives, partners, parents, children, and extended families of our players and high performance staff, we salute you. Many of you have accepted being temporary widows or orphans to allow your men to reach the heights they have. Thank you for your support, love, and sacrifice.

As we come to the end of another World Cup campaign, there can only be one winning team, and we eagerly look forward to seeing who that will be. We will need to review our own campaign. We will examine our processes, systems, priorities, and strategies. We will review our coaches, high performance staff, and players. We will examine our board, and I will submit to review, in my capacity as CEO of Rugby Australia. There will be changes. There must be. It is only right that we take a long look in the mirror. But, for now, let us not forget to appreciate the men, women, and families who have worked so hard for so long.

With deep appreciation,

Raelene Castle

CEO Rugby Australia

A window of hope for Rugby Australia

sasha-freemind-780719-unsplashDear Rugby Australia

I see a window of hope for our great game. It will take some humble pie. A decision or two will need to be reversed. But you have an opportunity to make rugby great again.

I love rugby. I love the Wallabies. I’ve held the Bledisloe Cup in my hands. I love the Brumbies. I’ve drunk from the 2004 Super 12 trophy. I love local rugby, standing in the driving rain, the sleet, the mud, and the heat, watching my boys compete with all their hearts. I’ve cheered Aussie rugby from my lounge room, the stands, the sidelines, the change room, in Australia and overseas. I’ve supported rugby and rugby has been my reward.

That is why, Rugby Australia, you are breaking my heart. I listen to so many who say they’ve had enough. They don’t care anymore. The politics, the ignorance, the mismanagement, the bullying, the elitism—they’ve had enough. And what can I say? They’ve got a point. But I won’t give up. In fact, I see a window of hope.

71edf81b5810a66b4f3c696b83f0c5a8Rugby Australia, you have made a mess of things, but there is still hope. You just need to own up to a few things. It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants to play rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window. Don’t miss it. Offer an olive branch now. Do it now before rugby league gets the jump. Do it now before he signs overseas. Do it now before our best player misses the World Cup. Do it now because you can and it is the right thing to do.

Be honest. You have made things far worse than they needed to be. You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose. They knew Izzy. They knew what he believes. It’s never been a secret. And they chose to follow him anyway. What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love. You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.

Rugby Australia, you didn’t handle things well. For years you’ve been saying we need to respect our players. All of them. Together with the Rugby Union Players Association, you have provided chaplains, cultural liaison workers, welfare workers and more. Orientation camps for players have included important pieces on the cultural, family, and religious convictions of our Pacific Islanders especially. Now you heavy-handedly ignore them. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to consult with cultural and religious experts, to seek to gain insight and understanding, to work toward future agreement, to learn from the misunderstanding to create a better outcome for all? But you rushed in like a bully in a china shop.

When Andy Friend was the coach of the Brumbies, he once surveyed all his players to discover the most influential people in their lives. A significant number of the players put Jesus Christ, or the Lord, or God as number one. I suspect this result would have been repeated in many of the teams across Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Most of the players who gave these responses were Polynesian. So, what did Andy do? He saw an opportunity to respect his players and further their development. He asked the chaplain to work with him to understand his players better, and to determine how he could support them in their beliefs. He explored how to enable players to live out their beliefs when at home and when on tour. We could do with a lot more of this kind of emotional intelligence among the leaders in our game.

Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and other church school teams? If you are going to lead rugby into the future in Australia, then you need to get back in touch, and there is still time. Please, do it now.

You have painted Izzy into a corner. You demanded that he take down a post. That seems reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes. Why would he be open to having all future posts vetted, but not take down an existing one? Have you thought about that? Have you asked him? Could it be that he sees you asking him to deny his beliefs? Please, lighten up a bit. The nature of social media posts is they are quickly buried and forgotten.

Look to the future, not to the past. Take the opportunity to forge a new future for religious and cultural liaison in rugby. Lead well. Show some grace. Be the sport that unites rather than divides.

Rugby Australia, I plead with you. Do the right thing. Give Israel Folau another chance. Take this window of opportunity to reconnect with Israel and work together for the future of our sport. I, for one, will respect you deeply if you do.

Dave McDonald

National Director, FIEC
Salt Community Church Pastor, Bonny Hills, NSW
Brumbies Chaplain 2003-2017

Deserted by Lady Luck?

Saturday night was pretty cold in Canberra. I blame the cancer and chemo for the fact that I feel the cold more this year. So much so, that I splurged on buying a down-filled jacket to wear to the rugby. It was a clearance sale! My youngest called me a sheep when I wore it. That is, until my wife informed him it was filled with goose down. Now I’m the goose! Not that I care… I was warm, and happy, watching the Brumbies play the Tahs at Canberra stadium. I love getting out and watching the games live, even if it is on the chilly side.

I’m a bit of a rugby tragic, so I subscribe to a few rugby news updates. Sunday’s edition of The Roar Daily Email contained an article called, Lady Luck deserts Lealiifano. It seemed a fair call really. The game was over. It was done and dusted. Christian had led the way to an emphatic victory over the Tahs. He was inspirational. And he’d been steadily building a claim for the Wallabies five eighth position. Then, with seconds left in the game, his leg gets trapped under another player. His ankle is fractured and dislocated. Out for the rest of the season.

The excitement of beating the Tahs, cementing the Brumbies at the top of the Aussie conference, and climbing another step closer to finals rugby, is overshadowed by the pain of seeing Christian on the stretcher, sucking madly on the green happy whistle. My joy is overtaken by sorrow, and the solemn reminder that there are bigger things in life than winning games of rugby.

A freak accident, yes. A common casualty in a tough collision sport, yes. A serious setback to plans, goals, and aspirations, yes. But deserted by Lady Luck? What does that mean, anyway? Fate turned bad? The gods of sport turning their faces away from Christian? Is that the way it is?

Well, I know Christian disagrees. I disagree. Life isn’t controlled by the random turn of the dice. It’s not the meaningless result of cause and effect, of time plus chance. In fact, the logic of the headline could be taken to imply that Christian’s success on the rugby field was merely the outworking of luck as well. What about his strength, speed, agility, skill, training, teamwork, leadership. What about the years of blood, sweat, and tears?

I’ve spoken with Christian Lealiifano (I’m the Brumbies team chaplain – not just a stalking fan!) and we both believe there’s a God who is involved and who cares. He’s working out his purposes through all the events of life, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad. Even through a season ending injury. Even over the loss of of our second flyhalf in a few weeks. Even when both of them, Matt and Christian, are trusting in Jesus and seeking to honour God with their lives. It doesn’t mean they understand it! It doesn’t mean they have an answer to ‘why’! But they do know it’s not blind fate, it has a purpose, and God can be trusted.

Suffering and trials can be a challenge to our beliefs. They can cause us to question and doubt. But they can also play a role in transforming us for the better. They can sharpen our focus in life and cause us to reconsider what matters really matter. My experience through recent serious trials and challenges has been that God has taken centre stage more clearly. I see evidence of him working his greater purposes, in me and in others, through the the suffering.

I’ll be praying to God for Christian, and Matt, and other players recovering from injury. Not just for a complete and speedy recovery. Not just for patience, a positive outlook, and hard work on the rehab. But, that God will work out his good purposes in their lives, that they will know and trust him though the ups and the downs, that God will build character in each of them. And I’ll be praying that they’ll be an encouragement, an inspiration and a blessing to those around them. If you’re one who prays, please join with me. If you’re not, can I recommend starting?!

But there’s no point praying to Lady Luck. She won’t hear you. She can’t help you. And she’ll only distract you from the One who can!