The AFL has dismissed the independent panel which was formed to investigate the racism allegations against Hawthorn, former coach Alastair Clarkson, former assistant coach Chris Fagan, and welfare officer Jason Burt. The conclusion, called "imperfect" by AFL CEO Gil McLachlan, was that none of the three had anything to answer for.
All three have denied the allegations since the outset. The complainants, who initially supported the probe, no longer wish to take part in the independent investigation and they won't pursue any further legal action against the AFL. Although the panel has been disbanded, it does not preclude the league bringing future charges against the club. McLachlan said the AFL would move as quickly as possible to finalize whether any charges would be levelled against Hawthorn.
Chris Fagan released a statement, saying he felt vindicated, " ... I have always vigorously defended myself, and will always do so, as I have done nothing wrong. I am proud of my record, built up over four decades, of nourishing not just the football careers but also the lives of the young people I have coached. This includes all of the First Nations players I have been fortunate enough to coach." Fagan thanked all those who had supported him, including "very many First Nations players I coached at Hawthorn, Melbourne and now at the Brisbane Lions ... The investigation has taken a very damaging toll on my family and me, and the many people involved ... ".
The panel was appointed in September of last year after allegations of how indigenous players were treated at Hawthorn during Clarkson's tenure as senior coach. Clarkson, who was appointed North Melbourne's senior coach, recently took a leave of absence from the club due to the toll the investigation was taking on him. It is unknown when he will return now that the investigation is over. Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves resigned last week after more than five years in the job, saying he needed to focus on his wellbeing.
Hawthorn released their own statement, "It has been a complex and delicate situation for everyone. We acknowledge that it has had a significant emotional toll on all those involved. The club is committed to continue to listen and learn to ensure we create an inclusive environment for our First Nations people. Since the panel was set up, the club has cooperated fully ... we have always wanted to see it resolved fairly and quickly ... The club hopes this creates an opportunity for healing and to address the hurt felt by many."
Included in the AFL statement were a number of resolutions. Among them were: the complainants want to resolve all issues with the AFL, complainants do not want to " ... pursue the Independent Panel Investigation ... or make any claims against the AFL ... ". There were acknowledgements as well. Some those were that " ... each one of the Complainants feels hurt, pain and anguish following their time at Hawthorn ...", " ... the manner in which their allegations were leaked to the media was not in any party’s best interests ... ", " ... the Independent Panel ... was a positive and constructive process ... ".
The league press statement also listed initiatives they are taking to improve the game's inclusivity and combat racism which include Indigenous board representation across all 18 AFL clubs, increase cultural diversity of AFL umpiring and officiating cohort and workforce, design and implement an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment and retention strategy for the AFL, development of Risk management strategies and plans relating to cultural capability and related policies in clubs, standardized education to assist understanding of these policies and how they work and in particular assist players to exercise their rights to make reports under those policies and more generally to seek support, ask questions and report concerns, establish a rules of engagement document to guide this work to establish some basic standards and principles.
Training programs would include cultural safety and awareness training programs for all AFL and AFLW club staff, access to resources for cultural safety and awareness training to Community Leagues and Clubs. Training on vilification and discrimination to be available for community stakeholders in 2023; virtual information session from Facebook / Instagram to AFLW / AFL Players and Clubs on use of new features to protect against online abuse, training and implementation of the Social and emotional well-being wheel that supports culturally appropriate and relevant well-being models for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as players and staff; Aboriginal Mental Health First Aid Training for all relevant club staff, improve cultural capability of player managers, including working with AFLPA to include as a requirement for accreditation. The league will also consider a centralized racial vilification tribunal model for community football leagues and clubs, as well as programs to support and collaborate with AFL and AFLW players on advocacy for community racism and inclusion issues.
Article last changed on Sunday, June 04, 2023 - 7:36 PM EDT