The message from Di Patston was desperate. “I am sitting here in the team room doing my job and I can’t stop crying. What did I do to you? You have barely known me a day. I am so humiliated by this.”
These are the words she is said to have written to Wallabies five-eighth Kurtley Beale, after the feckless player decided it would be a merry little jape to traduce a blameless professional in front of the entire squad. To be precise, he allegedly circulated a photograph of an overweight nude woman labelled “Di”.
Unfortunately, the idiot also copied in Patston herself by mistake, unleashing a maelstrom of controversy that has since triggered the resignation of Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie. His departure came in one of the most dramatic press conferences I have ever seen, as Bill Pulver, the chief executive of Australian Rugby Union, bustled into the room at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium to berate journalists for their “extraordinary character assassination” of his man. McKenzie had endured enough, fed up of needling insinuations that Patston, who he had brought in as business manager, might also be his mistress.
The unedifying episode is one to suggest that Australia has yet to embrace the notion of women in power. Two years after Julia Gillard electrified Parliament with a barnstorming denunciation of Tony Abbott – “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man” – precious little has changed. Patston has found her reputation shredded, all because she happened to infiltrate a team-room environment still regarded as the exclusive province of “the boys”.
But the problem is not purely an Antipodean one. In Britain ...