The AFL’s investigation into the bombshell claims made by Indigenous families about their treatment at Hawthorn has hit an early roadblock.
The families are reportedly hesitant to revisit the traumatic allegations made against Hawthorn, specifically ex-coaches Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan as well as former player development manager Jason Burt.
Those harrowing allegations include claims an Indigenous player was urged to tell his partner to abort their child and break up with her.
That same player, with the alias of ‘Ian’, alleges he was ‘manipulated and convinced to remove my SIM card from my phone so there was no further contact between my family and me’.
Former Hawthorn coaches Alastair Clarkson (left) and Chris Fagan (right) are at the centre of harrowing racism allegations against the club
Hawthorn’s former player development manager, Jason Burt, has also been named in the club’s investigation into racism claims by Indigenous players
The allegations were revealed as a result of Hawthorn’s independent inquiry into how Indigenous players at the club were previously treated.
When the ‘harrowing and disturbing’ claims emerged in an ABC report, AFL boss Gillon McLachlan acknowledged it was a ‘challenging read’, and promised the league would conduct their own independent investigation.
That investigation would be undertaken by a four-person panel, with Clarkson, Fagan and Burt given a right of reply.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan swiftly announced the league would be undertaking an independent investigation into the racism claims
Given the Indigenous families have already described the traumatic allegations in graphic detail to the Hawthorn inquiry author Phil Egan and ABC journalist Russell Jackson, they are said to have ‘serious reservations’ about being interviewed again, according to the Herald Sun.
Some of the claims in the inquiry have also reportedly been backed up by a Hawthorn assistant coach.
Assembling the four-man panel will be a delicate process in order to assure all parties have their say and get a right of reply.
Indigenous former Hawthorn players have made some disturbing allegations about their treatment while at the club
On Monday, the AFL Coaches Association (AFLCA) released a statement imploring the league to appoint a former coach or administrator on the panel, in order to give context to coach-player communications.
‘The AFL Coaches Association is urging the AFL to include a well-credentialled current or former football administrator on the panel,’ the statement said.
‘It would significantly enhance the investigation if someone who intimately understand that environment (football clubs) and has deep experience in managing the wellbeing of players was included on the panel.
‘The AFLCA fully endorses the AFL’s decision to investigate the confronting allegations raised,’ said the association’s statement.
The AFL has already enlisted former Bulldogs president Peter Gordon, one of the nation’s top class action lawyers, to act as their legal counsel.
The Indigenous families’ lawyer Leon Zwier is also being consulted on the make-up of the panel.
The process of assembling the panel is delicate and nuanced because the league will be aware that all parties – specifically Clarkson and Fagan who have strongly denied the allegations – need to be sufficiently happy a just investigation is conducted.
Alastair Clarkson (left) and Chris Fagan (right) have strongly refuted the allegations against them and will be participating in the AFL’s investigation
If not, the scandal has the potential to drag on in the court system for many years, due to the seriousness of the allegations and potential implications for careers.
Given high-profile Indigenous players like Eddie Betts and Cyril Rioli have been vocal in the past about feeling let down by a lack of support by the AFL when it comes to investigated incidents of alleged racism; there’s that to take into account too.
A ‘devastated’ Fagan, who was Clarkson’s chief lieutenant at the club from 2008-2016, who strongly refuted the allegations when they arose, confirmed he had hired lawyers.
Current Lions coach Chris Fagan has also strongly refuted the allegations against him from his time at Hawthorn
‘I have retained Clayton Utz lawyers together with barristers Liam Kelly KC and David Turner to act on my behalf in relation to the proposed forthcoming investigation by the AFL,’ he said in a statement on Tuesday morning.
‘I confirm, as I said in my earlier statement, that I deny, categorically, the allegations of wrongdoing by me in relation to First Nations players at the Hawthorn Football Club, and that I intend to defend myself.
‘I also confirm my intention to participate fully in any investigative process, provided that it is independent, fair and impartial, and respects my right to be heard,’ said Fagan.
Clarkson, who won four premierships at Hawthorn in his tenure at the club from 2005-2021, also strongly refuted the allegations, and slammed the way his former club conducted the investigation.
Alastair Clarkson and Hawks skipper Luke Hodge lift the 2014 AFL Premiership Cup. The pair won four premierships together
‘The health, care and welfare of our players, staff and their families were always my highest priorities during my time at Hawthorn Football Club,’ he said in a media statement.
‘I was therefore shocked by the extremely serious allegations reported in the media earlier today. I was not interviewed by the authors of the report commissioned by the club, nor have I been provided with a copy of the report.
‘I was not afforded any due process and I refute any allegation of wrongdoing or misconduct and look forward to the opportunity to be heard as part of the AFL external investigation,’ Clarkson said in the statement.
These allegations are about the worst that could ever possibly be levelled at a coach, so the upcoming AFL investigation will likely go down as the most important in its history.