Four families at the centre of Hawthorn’s racism scandal have agreed co-operate with the AFL but only if the competition commits to a review “to independently look at its own failings and promises to all First Nations families it will do better as a result”.
The bombshell allegations were aired in September and the AFL has since announced it would investigate the claim through a self-proclaimed ‘independent investigation’.
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The bombshell ABC Sport report alleged senior staff at Hawthorn demanded the separation of First Nations players from their partners and pressured one player and his partner to terminate a pregnancy for the sake of his career.
Other players allege they were made to remove SIM cards from their phones and replace them with new ones in an attempt to cut them off from their partners and make them focus on their football careers.
Names have been changed in the report to protect the identities of the players and their partners.
But one of the big questions was whether the families would commit to the AFL-organised investigation.
Earlier this week, one of the women to have made the accusation, referred to as “Amy” to protect her identity, announced she would not co-operate with the investigation.
However, on Friday evening, an open letter to the AFL from the former Hawthorn players and their families identified the terms for participation in the investigation.
“You have asked us to participate in the AFL’s investigation into allegations of racism at the Hawthorn Football Club. We have reservations about that process and share many of the concerns expressed by Amy. However, we also want to make sure our experiences will never be repeated and that is why we have taken our time to carefully consider our position.
“We do want to tell our truths to a panel of independent investigators in a culturally safe environment.
“But the issue of racism in the AFL cannot be dealt with by a narrowly-targeted investigation on a club-by-club, or crisis-by-crisis, basis.
“That may protect the AFL’s image and reputation in the short term, but it does not address our concerns, which won’t go away with a limited investigation of Hawthorn.
“We want the AFL to take a good hard look at itself and how it has dealt with racism in the past. Not because we want to trawl over a 100 years of neglect, or conduct a witch-hunt or to bring legal claims, but because we want the AFL to be a safer place for our children and all First Nations children who dream of playing AFL football.
“In our cultures the past shapes and determines our future.
“We ask as part of this process for the AFL to independently investigate how AFL policies, procedures and practices can be improved. We want to help educate AFL coaching staff, players and umpires about our cultures and our peoples and set KPI’s to annually test whether the AFL is doing better in relation to racism. For once and for all.
“Today we have decided to participate in the AFL independent Investigation on the basis that the AFL is also committed to independently look at its own failings and promises to all First Nations families it will do better as a result. And we appreciate this will take more time to complete than a Hawthorn focused investigation.
“To the AFL Clubs’ boards of directors, tell the AFL not to sweep this crisis under the carpet as merely a Hawthorn problem. It’s not just a Hawthorn problem, just like it wasn’t just a Collingwood problem. Address the issue of racism in the AFL directly and purposively. The next crisis may be yours.
“To those First Nations Players and their families who have previously been racially vilified, and hurt by the AFL’s failures and silences, please lend your voices to our call to the AFL to do better. You inspire us. We stand shoulder to shoulder with you.”
It comes after Alastair Clarkson started work for North Melbourne earlier this week, despite being the Hawthorn coach at the time of the alleged scandal. He has denied the allegations.
Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan, who was also at Hawthorn between 2008 and 2016, first as a head of coaching and development and after 2013 as general manager of football, is also back at work. He has also denied the allegations.
Lawyer Michael Bradley, who is the managing partner of Marque Lawyers and representing “Amy”, questioned why Clarkson and Fagan were allowed to return to work.
“Regarding Clarkson and Fagan, that’s a matter for the AFL and the clubs that employ them,” Bradley told The Age.
“Given the extreme gravity of the allegations and the risks that they imply, I’m not sure how those entities have satisfied themselves that ‘clearing’ them to return to work so quickly was appropriate, but we’re not privy to their internal processes.”