Netball NZ chief backs change but critics howl

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2012
Raelene Castle
Fairfax NZ
RAELENE CASTLE: "Sometimes it's very beneficial when you have significant change, to start with someone who has skills, but no baggage. That way they can start every conversation with an open mind."

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Resignations and hand-wringing in one of her sport's newly-formed regions haven't bothered Netball New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle.

The failure of long-time Magic chief executive Sheryl Dawson to be named as the chief executive of the new Waikato-Bay of Plenty zone prompted an outpouring of anger, particularly in Dawson's home city of Tauranga.

Former rugby and basketball administrator Tim Hamilton was the successful applicant, which was greeted by some scathing comments from two members of the now-defunct Magic board. Avowed Dawson supporters, they criticised Netball NZ's recruitment process.

Castle's view is that some of the previous regimes were rotten. Things had to change for the good of the entire game, not just the five trans-Tasman Netball League franchises.

Clear criteria were drawn up and candidates' capabilities measured against those. Netball pedigree was a bonus, rather than a requirement, which is why Hamilton got his job and little-known Chris Hooper was hired to run Netball Central and the Pulse.

Castle couldn't be happier.

"Sometimes it's very beneficial when you have significant change, to start with someone who has skills, but no baggage. That way they can start every conversation with an open mind," she said.

Streamlining things will save Netball NZ money but, more important, said Castle, the shop window won't be the sole focus.

"We believe that because the new boards are tasked with delivering outcomes to both a franchise team, but also community/grassroots netball, they will ask themselves different questions when it comes to spending money on the semi-professional game.

"They need to be able to look themselves in the eye and say we did the best thing for netball, as opposed to we did the best thing for our franchise team.

"Which is why four or the five [zones] have new chairs, because not all of the previous chairs were interested in taking on that new integrated role."

The Pulse's Ian Collier is the only former franchise chairman to take on the same role with the zone. The old Pulse board is also the only one that has continued to sit while the new structure becomes established.

Castle described Collier as "fabulous" and sounds similarly taken with Hooper, who comes to the zone after five years as chief executive of Scouts New Zealand.

Hooper more than met Netball NZ's criteria, she said, and had a track record of achievement and longevity in his previous roles.

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"He obviously doesn't have netball experience, but he has the CEO skills required to run a business of this size, and a lot of fantastic people around him that have the specialist netball knowledge," she said.

Once exasperated by the Pulse, Castle is impressed by what the franchise has started to achieve, on and off the court.

"Oh, hugely. It's the old adage with sport: you have to have your back office sorted because you can have your front office sorted, and that's what's happened. I only expect that to get better next season."

Castle welcomes the prospect of New Zealand's five trans-Tasman franchises eventually becoming privately owned.

"In the short to medium term we are very keen to see if we can bed down this current structure, and see if we can ensure we've got a financially sustainable model there before we would look to have private enterprise involved.

"It's certainly been a discussion point around the board table, but it would be a medium-term option for netball."

Castle has had her critics, not least in September when she said her vision was for netball to be "New Zealand's leading sport by 2020".

She has presided over a fine year, in which the Magic won the trans-Tasman title, the Silver Ferns won back the Constellation Cup and the Fast5 format was introduced. But the success of the zone model will take a little longer to judge.

- Wellington

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