AFL pledges to investigate ‘heartbreaking and disturbing’ allegations by Hawthorn First Nations players | AFL

The AFL will set up an external independent panel to investigate ‘difficult, heartbreaking and disturbing’ allegations of Hawthorn’s mistreatment of former First Nations players, including that the Hawks separated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players from their families and pressured a couple to terminate a pregnancy. .

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan faced the media on Wednesday after the ABC reported the distressing content of a review commissioned by Hawthorn based on interviews with First Nations players, promising that the body leader “would get to the bottom of things”.

“What we have seen today is a difficult, heartbreaking and disturbing read,” he said. “I acknowledge the pain, anger and grief of the people who shared their experiences and told their stories and all those affected.

“I want to tell the women and partners and players who have shared their stories that our first priority is you, and providing the care and support you need. You have been heard, and as a supporter and community, we will do our best to hug you.

“It is important that we continue to communicate with you and to you. Your wellbeing is the most pressing priority for us because I know sharing these stories isn’t easy, but it’s important that you do, and they want to thank you all who have shared their experiences in the framework of this review.

McLachlan said the AFL will finalize the composition of the independent panel over the next 24 hours with a view to expediting the process for the well-being of people reliving the trauma they have suffered.

It will be led by “a distinguished King’s Counsel” and others who “have the right mix of diversity and an approach that prioritizes cultural safety for all who have shared their experiences.”

The reports of racism, prejudice and discrimination experienced by Indigenous players and their families at Hawthorn FC are heartbreaking.

Today my thoughts are with the players and their families who were allegedly subjected to horrific treatment.

— MP Linda Burney (@LindaBurneyMP) September 20, 2022

“We need to conduct a proper investigation to get to the bottom of this and that’s important, out of respect for those making the allegations and out of respect for those who are accused,” McLachlan said.

“We must ensure natural justice and allow the process to continue, but we will seek to set up the panel and work with Hawthorn Football Club to develop the report of the games and the partners involved to engage with them, to accelerate it and does not prolong the trauma.

McLachlan said the AFL received Hawthorn’s review “about a week ago” but confirmed there were no plans to release it in full. He said he had spoken with clubs and representatives of the defendants, and it would be up to those parties to respond.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney on Wednesday called the allegations “heartbreaking”, while former Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge said the news was “a shock to the system”.

The Hawks released a statement on Wednesday confirming the review was in the hands of the AFL, but declined to comment further. A spokesperson said it would not be made public as the club had interviewed players on a guarantee of anonymity.

“Earlier this year, Hawthorn Football Club engaged external First Nations consultants to liaise with current and former First Nations players and staff to learn more about their experience at the club,” the statement read. .

“This important work has raised troubling historical allegations that require further investigation. Upon learning of these allegations, the club immediately engaged AFL Integrity, as appropriate.

“The club will continue to support those who have been part of this process, and their well-being remains our priority.

“While the process indicated that the club’s current environment is culturally safe, it also recommended that some of the club’s current First Nations training and development programs continue to be strengthened.

“The club places the best interests and welfare of our players and staff as our number one priority.”

The explosive report comes about 18 months after the publication of Collingwood’s Do Better report, which exposed a systemic culture of racism among the Magpies, and the Hawthorn report is expected to have an equally big impact.

“The reports of racism, prejudice and discrimination experienced by Indigenous players and their families at Hawthorn FC are heartbreaking,” Burney said on Twitter. “My thoughts today are with the players and their families who were allegedly subjected to horrific treatment.”

Hodge, who played for Hawthorn between 2002 and 2017, said reading the allegations was “very uncomfortable”.

“It’s a shock to the system to read some of the things that were alleged there,” Hodge told SEN.

“You can’t put yourself in the shoes of the players and their families and what they have been told by people they are supposed to look up to. It’s an uncomfortable position for them to have had to go through and you feel for them. .

AFL Players’ Association chief executive Paul Marsh said the organization was “extremely concerned” about the allegations, while its chairman, Geelong midfielder Patrick Dangerfield, called them of “disturbing”.

“We have spoken to the AFL and communicated our expectations that an independent investigation should be carried out,” Marsh said. “It should also be well resourced and have a broad reach.”

Marsh said relevant stakeholders and partners “will continue to have AFLPA’s full support through our various programs and services.”

Dangerfield told SEN that Hawthorn’s allegations suggested ‘we haven’t done our job… as an industry’. “It should never have come to this,” he said.

“Players have a lot of faith in the people at football clubs, that they have their best interests at heart and football is definitely part of that, but it should never be just football.”

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