Controversial former Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle is set to be named to the top sports administration role in the country.
Castle, 49, will replace long-serving Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin, who announced in August that he would be leaving the organisation he has led since 2008.
A source said Katie Sadleir, a long-time sports administration insider and former Olympian, has told at least one national sporting organisation that she missed out on the role. It was understood Sadleir and Castle were the only candidates granted a final interview.
In this craziest of years, it would seem foolhardy to rule out last-minute shocks, but if Castle was to miss out on the job, it would represent a clever misdirection play by Grant Robertson, who was this week appointed deputy prime minister, while holding on to the sport portfolio.
He had made it clear to insiders that Miskimmin's replacement would be a woman and recently appeared with Castle — who spoke via digital hook-up due to Covid-19 restrictions — at the Captain's Lunch, which celebrates female leadership in sports and business.
Castle will become Sport NZ's third CEO after Miskimmin and Nick Hill, and the first woman to lead the crown agency.
The move to replace him with Castle has been well signposted in the Herald but will nevertheless surprise many in the sporting community who believe Castle's fraught tenure at RA and the NRL's Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs disqualified her from such a high-profile role so soon.
Her legacy as Netball New Zealand chief executive is less complicated, although the zonal system she ushered in has not been an unblemished success, with Netball Mainland going into voluntary liquidation this year. The Silver Ferns were successful under her reign, which always reflects well on leadership.
It is at Rugby Australia, however, where Castle faced — and some would say flunked — her greatest challenge.
Although it could be argued she was set up to fail by previous administrations, the handling of the Israel Folau homophobia saga coupled with the failure to secure a broadcasting deal before Covid-19 hit left the union in financial peril when Castle resigned in April.
Hamish McLennan, RA chairman, said the organisation was in turmoil when he took over in June.
"The whole organisation was a war zone," he told Australian media. "I was deeply concerned about the long-term viability of the game because everyone was fighting and there was no focus on the right outcomes and how we were going to win."
Sport NZ's new chief executive will step in at a time of extraordinary upheaval, some caused by the financial implications of the pandemic, some by societal shifts away from traditional sports, and some by simmering athlete resentment at the delivery of high-performance programmes and funding.
"I am extremely proud of what this organisation has achieved over the past 12 years and how well equipped it is to serve our sector moving forward," Miskimmin said when he announced his departure.
"This has been a period of unparalleled sporting success for New Zealand on the world stage. It has also been one which has seen Sport NZ make a major step change in addressing the declining participation of our young people and the impact this is having on their well-being."
Despite the numerous high-performance successes of New Zealand teams and athletes, Miskimmin leaves with the sector in flux.
Participation has plummeted in many of the country's traditional team sports, particularly during teenage years. The overheated and increasingly commoditised secondary sport sector is a nettle his organisation has failed to grasp.
A well-placed source said restoring "sanity" and balance in the school sport space would be one of Sport NZ's top priorities, as would reining in costs at High-Performance Sport New Zealand, a Sport NZ subsidiary.