AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan prioritises players and women impacted by Hawthorn racism allegations as he launches investigation English Headline

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has told AFL players and their loved ones impacted by bombshell racism allegations “you have been heard” as he confirmed the league would do its best “to wrap our arms around you in support”.

Young First Nations Hawthorn Football Club players were allegedly separated from their partners and pressured to terminate pregnancies for their careers by senior coaches, according to a damning allegations aired in an external review.

The ABC claims there were multiple incidents involving several First Nations players, one of whom allegedly made several attempts on their own life in the aftermath.

The publication alleges that senior club staff bullied First Nations players by removing them from their homes or relocating them elsewhere as they were given the ultimatum to choose between their families or careers.

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Mr McLachlan addressed the allegations during a press conference on Wednesday morning, where he confirmed the AFL had received the report from Hawthorn and would “fully investigate what has been shared”.

“What we have seen today is a challenging, harrowing and disturbing read,” he said.

“I acknowledge the hurt, the anger and the grief of people who have shared their experiences and told their stories and all of those impacted.

“I want to say to the women and the partners and also the players who have shared their stories that our first priority is to you, and to provide the care and the support that you need.

“You have been heard, and as a support and a community, we will do our best to wrap our arms around you in support.”

The AFL top boss stressed that the welfare of those who have bravely come forward was the priority of the league and promised to keep their identities anonymous.

“It is important that we continue to communicate with you and to you. Your welfare is the most pressing priority for us because I know that sharing these stories is not easy, but it is important that you do, and they want to thank you all who have shared their experiences as part of this review,” he said.

The independent review, which was completed a fortnight ago, is understood to have been commissioned by Hawthorn Football Club and has since been handed over to AFL integrity unit for investigation.

The report is anticipated to highlight several senior figures in the document including former coach Alistair Clarkson who led the team during four AFL premierships.

It also includes former football manager Chris Fagan – now senior coach of Brisbane – as well as Hawthorn player development manager Jason Burt.

Mr McLachlan did not confirm those being investigated but said all allegations would examined by an independent committee.

Former captain Luke Hodge who played 305 games with the club during the alleged period of racism said the revelations were “terrible”.

“Your first thought goes to the players that went  through it, the partners and families that went through it because it doesn’t matter what your job is, it’s always family first,” Hodge told SEN on Wednesday.

“I’m still a bit unsure of my thought process because reading some of the things that were alleged in that, it’s shocking. Terrible.

“When you get drafted to  a football club it’s supposed to be an exciting time in your life … that’s not what happened with these young kids.”

Hodge captained the team during their 2013, 2014, and 2015 premierships but said this success was “irrelevant” in light of the claims. 

“What we went through as a group …  we had a lot of success for years but at this stage, that’s irrelevant because of what young blokes were told or what they were put through,” he said.

Hawthorn said that it was investigating the “disturbing historical allegations” in its own statement on Wednesday, where it reiterated player welfare was a priority for the club.

“Earlier this year the 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 said.

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

“The club will continue to provide support to those who have participated in this process, and their wellbeing remains our priority.”

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