Claims of racism and bullying that are "harrowing" rock A football team from Australia.
On Wednesday, allegations of racism and bullying toward Indigenous players shook the country's most popular sport, Australian rules football. This is the latest in a string of events that have shaken the country's most popular sport.
A report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said that Indigenous players for the Hawthorn Hawks said their coaches told them to stop seeing their partners and, in one case, to have a partner's pregnancy ended so they could focus on training.
The Australian Football League (AFL) said it would put together an independent panel to look into the claims, and two coaches named in the report stepped down until the results were in.
At a news conference on Wednesday, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said, "What we've seen today is a tough, scary, and upsetting read." "It would be hard to come up with more serious accusations."
Down Under, the AFL is the most popular professional sports league. Its final is often watched by more people than any other TV show. For Australians, especially in the southern states, it has the same fanatical following as the NFL, NBA, and soccer in the US and Latin America.
The ABC report follows a review that the Hawks did on their own, but that hasn't been made public yet. The allegations are mostly about Alastair Clarkson, who was the club's head coach from 2005 to 2021.
One player told the ABC that Clarkson and two other people went to his house with him and broke up with his pregnant girlfriend on his behalf. They supposedly told him that she was keeping him from becoming the best player he could be and that he didn't spend enough time with the team.
Two players said that their partners forced them to switch the SIM cards in their phones so that they couldn't get in touch with them.
One player said that when his girlfriend got pregnant, he couldn't wait to tell the club. The player told the ABC that Clarkson "demanded" that the pregnancy be ended and that he break up with his girlfriend and move in with an assistant coach.
The player's then-girlfriend told the ABC that another club official told her that Hawthorn had decided it would be better for his football career "if he didn't become a father."
In the ABC report, the names of the players were not given.
Clarkson said he was "shocked" by the accusations, which he denied.
"I wasn't given a fair trial, and I deny any wrongdoing or bad behavior," he said in a statement. Clarkson said that he was not interviewed as part of the club's review and that he would "look forward to the chance to be heard as part of the AFL external investigation."
Clarkson, who is now the head coach of another club, North Melbourne Kangaroos, said he would "step back" from his duties to help with the investigation.
Chris Fagan, who was an assistant coach at Hawthorn and was named in the ABC report, took a break from his job as head coach of the Brisbane Lions while the investigation was going on.
Tony Armstrong, an Indigenous sports presenter and former AFL player, said on the ABC on Wednesday that the report came at a hard time for Indigenous people. He said that recent events, like the coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's death, brought back painful memories of the injustices Indigenous Australians have had to deal with since British colonization.
He said, "The allegations themselves are very, very scary, and there's a lot more to come." "I just want all First Nations people who are reading this to know that I love you."
Aussie rules, which is what we call the sport here, was based on an Aboriginal game and is popular with Indigenous Australians. But there have been many claims that the sport is racist.
Last year, the president of another club, the Collingwood Magpies, quit after a report said that the club was racist because of how it was set up. After a Black player said he was given a racist nickname and was often the subject of racist jokes, the report was made. Aboriginal Aussie rules player Adam Goodes was booed for years after he kicked out a young fan who called him an ape in 2013. In 2019, the AFL said sorry to Goodes.
Indigenous media personality Shelley Ware, who talks about the AFL, said that the latest allegations should make every club do an outside review that looks at racism.
"Everyone should do it," she said. "And I hope that the voices and strength of the families who have spoken up will give other families the courage to do the same."
Nerita Waight, the head of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, said in a statement that "the players mentioned in this story were far from home, country, and family, and they should have been able to put their trust and safety in the hands of the club."
"Unfortunately, I'm not surprised by these revelations," she said, referring to how Goodes and other black players were treated.
In a statement, the Hawks said they had hired outside First Nations consultants to talk to current and former Indigenous players and staff to learn more about their experiences. In a news conference, CEO Justin Reeves said that the findings were unexpected and that the accusations were "extremely disturbing."