The Australian Football League (AFL) says it is investigating “very serious allegations” made by Indigenous players who say they were racially abused by a head coach at the Hawthorn Football Club in Melbourne.
A former Hawthorn player has told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he was told by the AFL club’s then-coach to terminate his partner’s pregnancy.
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Three Indigenous families involved at Hawthorn during the same man’s period as coach between 2005-21 have told the ABC they were allegedly bullied and told to choose between their football careers and their families.
Indigenous players on Australian rules football teams, including several star players, have often complained of crowd abuse at stadiums. But this is the first time that coaching staff at a team have faced serious racism allegations.
We have a massive problem. And by we, I don't just mean football, I mean Australia. Racism here is deeply institutionalised, and perhaps most disturbingly, perpetuated by people and organisations not even conscious they're doing it. #racism #Hawthorn https://t.co/CQrsCxqdAN
— Rohan Connolly (@rohan_connolly) September 21, 2022
Hawthorn earlier this year commissioned an external review into claims of racism at the club during that person’s tenure as coach. The external review document was given to the Hawthorn hierarchy and the AFL’s integrity unit two weeks ago.
“The experiences outlined in the document are extremely serious and require further and full examination,” the AFL said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The AFL is finalizing a process to investigate the allegations and has sought further details of those who shared their experiences in order to progress its investigation.”
Hawthorn added that the review “raised disturbing historical allegations that require further investigation”.
“Upon learning of these allegations, the club immediately engaged AFL integrity as is appropriate,” a club statement on Wednesday said. “Given the matters raised are confidential, the club will not provide any further comment.”
Australian Football League chief Gillon McLachlan said “at face value, it’s hard to find more serious allegations”.
“There are so many people hurting today and have been hurting for a long time. As a game, we will do everything to ensure the hurt you experienced is not a hurt experienced by others.”
McLachlan said an external panel of four independent, appropriately qualified people would conduct a separate investigation for the AFL.
“We need to run a proper investigation to get to the bottom of it and this is important out of respect for those making the allegations and out of respect for those being accused,” he said.
The ABC reported the document included allegations of key Hawthorn figures demanding the separation of young Indigenous players from their partners. It said one couple was pressured to terminate a pregnancy for the sake of the player’s career.
The player told the ABC a group of coaches including the head coach and his assistant urged him to have his partner’s pregnancy terminated, break up with his partner, and move into the home of an assistant coach.
“(He) just leaned over me and demanded that I needed to get rid of my unborn child and my partner,” the player, who was not named, told the ABC.
“I was then manipulated and convinced to remove my SIM card from my phone so there was no further contact between my family and me.”
Hawthorn club chief executive Justin Reeves said the review into claims of historic racism at the club was conducted by external First Nations consultants who did not speak with the two coaches at the centre of the racism allegations. Reeves did not name the coaches.
“This process was … to speak purely to our First Nations past players and staff,” Reeves said at a media conference later on Wednesday. “We had no idea what was to come out of those conversations so we didn’t speak to anyone outside of that group.”
Asked whether Hawthorn had a culture problem, Reeves responded that, “Australia has a culture problem, historically, and I think like all of us, we focus on every day being better and building a great environment for our club.”