By Ian Ransom MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An independent panel investigating historical allegations of mistreatment of Indigenous players at 13-time champions Hawthorn made “no adverse findings” against coaching staff at the Australian Football League club, the AFL said on Tuesday. The governing body of Australian Rules football formed a panel last October to investigate “extremely serious” […]
Australian Rules-Hawthorn staff cleared after probe into treatment of Indigenous players
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An independent panel investigating historical allegations of mistreatment of Indigenous players at 13-time champions Hawthorn made “no adverse findings” against coaching staff at the Australian Football League club, the AFL said on Tuesday.
The governing body of Australian Rules football formed a panel last October to investigate “extremely serious” allegations from former players through 2008 to 2016, including one footballer who said coaches had urged him to have his partner’s pregnancy aborted.
The accusations were made against former Hawthorn head coach Alastair Clarkson, his one-time assistant Chris Fagan and the club’s former welfare manager Jason Burt.
All three denied any wrongdoing.
The AFL said it had terminated the investigation with the consent of six unnamed complainants, “with no charges to be brought against any Person subject to the AFL Rules.”
“No adverse findings have been made in the Independent Investigation against any of the individuals against whom allegations have been made,” the governing body said in a statement.
The allegations came to light after Hawthorn commissioned an external review to learn more about Indigenous players’ experiences at the club.
The accused staff were given no chance to respond before the club raised its concerns with the AFL.
The allegations damaged the club and the drawn-out investigation took a toll on the defendants.
Clarkson, who led Hawthorn to four AFL championships from 2008-15, stood down as head coach of the North Melbourne Kangaroos this month, citing mental wellbeing issues.
Hawthorn Chief Executive Justin Reeves resigned from his post last week due to the “personal toll” of the job “through a very difficult period”, the club said.
AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan said Hawthorn’s handling of its external review could yet come under league scrutiny and potentially lead to charges under its rules.
“I’m not pre-empting it but I’m certainly not ruling it out,” he told reporters in Melbourne. “I think that’ll be something that’s done in a reasonably expeditious manner.”
Clarkson, Fagan — now coach of the Brisbane Lions — or Burt were not interviewed by the investigation panel.
The panel’s chairman said in a statement this month that the probe had reached an impasse because the complainants did not want to share documents with the accused over privacy concerns.
Australian media reported the accused had refused to be interviewed until they had seen the documents.
McLachlan did not clarify how the panel had determined that there were no findings against the Hawthorn coaching staff, after having failed to interview any of them.
“It’s a resolution that’s been worked through with the AFL and the complainants and it’s been endorsed by the independent panel chairman given all the stuff he has in front of him,” he said.
The AFL apologised in its statement to players who were victims of racism and said it was committed to devoting more resources to combat it and improve the “cultural safety of First Nations players and their families” in the AFL and women’s AFLW.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ken Ferris)