Australian football club is investigating allegations of racism and bullying

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The Australian Football League is investigating ‘very serious allegations’ as players say they have been racially abused by a Hawthorn Football Club head coach.

The Australian Football League (AFL) says it is investigating “very serious allegations” from Indigenous players who say they have been racially abused by a head coach of Melbourne’s Hawthorn Football Club.

A former Hawthorn player has told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he had been told by the then AFL club’s coach to terminate his partner’s pregnancy.

Three Indigenous families who were involved with Hawthorn during the same man’s stint as coach between 2005-21 have told the ABC they were allegedly bullied and had to choose between their football careers and their families.

Indigenous players of Australian football teams, including several star players, have often complained about abuse from the crowds in stadiums. But this is the first time a team’s coaching staff has faced serious accusations of racism.

Hawthorn ordered an outside investigation earlier this year into claims of racism at the club during that person’s tenure as coach. The external review paper was given to the Hawthorn hierarchy and the AFL’s integrity unit two weeks ago.

“The experiences described in the document are extremely serious and require further and full investigation,” the AFL said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The AFL is finalizing a process to investigate the allegations and has sought further details from those who have shared their experiences to continue the investigation.”

Hawthorn added that the review “raised disturbing historical allegations that require further investigation”.

“When the club learned of these allegations, the club immediately engaged AFL integrity,” a club statement said on Wednesday. “As the matters raised are confidential, the club will not comment further.”

‘manipulated’

Gillon McLachlan, head of the Australian Football League, said that “on the face of it, it is difficult to find more serious allegations”.

“There are so many people who are in pain today and have been in pain for a long time. As a game, we will do everything we can to ensure that the pain you have experienced is not the pain experienced by others.”

McLachlan said an outside panel of four independent, suitably qualified people would conduct a separate investigation for the AFL.

“We need to conduct a proper investigation to get to the bottom of this and this is important out of respect for those making the charges and out of respect for those who are accused,” he said.

The ABC reported that the document contained allegations of key Hawthorn figures demanding the separation of young Indigenous players from their partners. It said a couple was pressured to end a pregnancy for the sake of the player’s career.

The player told the ABC that a group of coaches, including the head coach and his assistant, urged him to end his partner’s pregnancy, break up with his partner and move into an assistant coach’s house.

“(He) just leaned over me and demanded that I get rid of my unborn child and my partner,” the unnamed player told ABC.

“I was then manipulated and convinced to remove my SIM card from my phone so that there was no contact between my family and me.”

The Hawthorn club’s director Justin Reeves said the investigation into claims of historical racism at the club was conducted by outside First Nations advisers who did not speak to the two coaches central to the racism allegations. Reeves did not name the coaches.

“This process was…to talk purely with our past First Nations players and staff,” Reeves said at a media conference later on Wednesday. “We had no idea what would come of those conversations, so we didn’t speak to anyone outside that group.”

When asked if Hawthorn had a culture problem, Reeves replied: “Australia has historically had a culture problem, and I think, like all of us, we focus on getting better every day and building a great environment for our club. “





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