Indigenous voices in the Northern Territory say they hope the finalisation of the AFL’s investigation into allegations of mistreatment of First Nations players at Hawthorn will not be the end of any action to address culture problems they say are still an issue across the code.
Eight months ago several former players and their families made serious allegations in a Hawthorn cultural safety review that they were harshly forced to choose between their careers and families.
The AFL probe, which ended on Tuesday, found no findings against former Hawthorn staff.
The AFL has said the First Nations players and families involved in the probe had reached an agreement and “wish to resolve all differences with the AFL”.
On Wednesday lawyers representing some families interviewed as part of the Hawthorn cultural review said they would be taking their complaints against Hawthorn to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Larrakia elder Eric Fejo said he was dismayed by the result of the AFL investigation.
“I had thought that Aussie Rules was leading in walking hand in hand with First Nations people,” he said.
Complainants signal complaint to Human Rights Commission
The AFL has said the Hawthorn club could face sanctions for bringing the game into disrepute.
Hawthorn president Andy Gowers has expressed hope that won’t happen, and that former players and staff will be able to sit down and talk and resolve “a number of issues that need to be talked through”.
It is still open to former players to take legal action.
Some complainants have announced they will make a human rights complaint alleging Hawthorn and some former staff have breached the Racial Discrimination Act.
Another family’s representative told the ABC they will say more in coming days.
Mr Fejo said he sees the Hawthorn allegations in the context of a long line of racism problems and sudden early retirements of Indigenous AFL players.
He said he is worried the AFL may now feel the issue is over and not further investigate what he sees as widespread racism problems in the sport.
“I think it just shows the continual head in the sand attitude,” he said.
Mr Fejo said while many clubs have Indigenous liaison staff and mentoring programs, the well-funded code should do more to be inclusive.
“I know a lot of these people (liaison staff), especially from the territory, and I know some of the programs that they do and I’m very impressed with them,” he said.
“But what I think they should be doing is extending them into the isolated areas, the communities, they’re not doing that.
“They’ve got that much money from sponsors, they can do a lot more.”
‘Opportunity missed’ for Indigenous consultation
Veteran Gurindji sports broadcaster Charlie King is urging the AFL not to see racism problems as over now.
“I think we’ve got to be thinking ‘what are some of the other things that we could be doing to make sure the racism stops?’,” he said.
“We just can’t go on, year after year, hearing complaints coming in and the matter doesn’t really stop.
“That’s the measure isn’t it? That there’s a noted stop where it becomes so totally unacceptable.
“I’m feeling uneasy about this, and I’m sure First Nations people in particular will be thinking: this is not quite finished.”
Mr King thinks the AFL should establish a council of Indigenous elders to advise it.
“There are so many elders around Australia who could be part of this whole process. I think it’s an opportunity missed really,” he said.
Some AFL clubs are making a point of recruiting in Indigenous communities by promoting an inclusive culture.
The Gold Coast Suns, currently in Darwin playing games, said they work hard to make their players remain connected to their family and country.
Coach Stuart Dew said ensuring players can get cultural leave is one way of doing that.
“We have an Indigenous liaison officer who advises us on that and any time they need that leave, ultimately we’re very supportive,” he said.
“We’re really mindful of where our players come from and making sure they don’t lose connection, and I think that’s a way of making them feel safe and welcome and I think we do that very well as a footy club.”
Source: AFL NEWS ABC