MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The Australian Football League says it is investigating “very serious allegations” made by indigenous players who say they were racially abused by a head coach at Hawthorn Football Club in Melbourne.
A former Hawthorn player told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the then AFL club coach told him to terminate his partner’s pregnancy. Three indigenous families involved in Hawthorn during the same man’s stint as coach between 2005 and 21 told ABC they were allegedly harassed and told to choose between their football careers and their families.
Indigenous players on Australian soccer teams have often complained of crowd abuse in stadiums, including several star players. But this is the first time a team’s coaching staff has faced serious accusations of racism.
Hawthorn earlier this year commissioned an external review of allegations of racism at the club during that person’s tenure as manager. The external review document was delivered to Hawthorn’s leadership and the AFL’s integrity unit two weeks ago.
“The experiences described in the document are extremely serious and require further and more comprehensive examination,” the AFL said in a statement on Wednesday. “The AFL is finalizing a process to investigate the allegations and has sought further details from those who shared their experiences to further its investigation.”
Hawthorn added that the review “raised disturbing historical allegations that require further investigation.”
“Upon learning of these allegations, the club immediately committed to the integrity of the AFL as appropriate,” a statement from the club said on Wednesday. “Since the matters raised are confidential, the club will not provide further comment.”
ABC reported that the document included accusations from key Hawthorn figures demanding the separation of young indigenous players from their partners. He said that a couple was pressured to terminate a pregnancy for the sake of the player’s career.
The player told ABC that a group of coaches, including the head coach and his assistant, urged him to terminate his partner’s pregnancy, break up with his partner and move into an assistant coach’s house.
“(He) just leaned over me and demanded that I have to get rid of my unborn child and my partner,” the player, who was not identified, told ABC.
“Then they manipulated me and convinced me to remove the SIM card from my phone so that there would be no more contact between me and my family. They told me I would be living with one of the other coaches from that night on.”
Hawthorn club chief executive Justin Reeves said the review of claims of historical racism at the club was carried out by outside First Nations consultants who did not speak to the two coaches at the center of the racism allegations. Reeves did not name the trainers.
“This process was. . . to speak purely to our former First Nations players and staff,” Reeves said at a news conference later on Wednesday. “We had no idea what would come out of those conversations, so we didn’t talk to anyone outside of that group.”
“It’s a difficult read, it’s heartbreaking. These accusations are extremely worrying. We are deeply disappointed that some of our former players and their families feel this way about their experiences at the club.”
Reeves said he was unaware of the identities of the players interviewed as part of the review due to confidentiality agreements.
But Reeves, who was appointed chief executive of Hawthorn in October 2017, urged the club to face its past.
“Australia historically has a cultural problem,” he said. “Like all of us, we focus on being better every day and building a great atmosphere for our club. But like so many institutions, we have to face our history and our past.”
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