Australian rules football investigates racism allegations

MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian Football League says it is investigating “very serious allegations” made by Indigenous players that they were racially abused by a coach at the Hawthorn Football Club in Melbourne.

A former Hawthorn player has told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he was told by the AFL club’s then-coach to terminate his partner’s pregnancy. Three Indigenous families involved at Hawthorn during the same man’s period as coach between 2005-21 have told the ABC they were allegedly bullied and told to choose between their careers and their families.

Indigenous players on Australian rules teams have often complained of crowd abuse at stadiums, including several star players. But this is the first time that coaching staff at a team have faced serious racism allegations.

Hawthorn earlier this year commissioned an external review into claims of racism at the club during that person’s tenure as coach. The external review document was given to Hawthorn hierarchy and the AFL’s integrity unit two weeks ago.

“The experiences outlined in the document are extremely serious and require further and full examination,” the AFL said in a statement Wednesday. “The AFL is finalizing a process to investigate the allegations and has sought further details of those who shared their experiences in order to progress its investigation.”

Hawthorn added that the review “raised disturbing historical allegations that require further investigation.”

“Upon learning of these allegations, the club immediately engaged AFL integrity as is appropriate,” a club statement on Wednesday said. “Given the matters raised are confidential, the club will not provide any further comment.”

The ABC reported the document included allegations of key Hawthorn figures demanding the separation of young Indigenous players from their partners. It said one couple was pressured to terminate a pregnancy for the sake of the player’s career.

The player told the ABC a group of coaches including the head coach and his assistant urged to have his partner’s pregnancy terminated, break up with his partner, and move into the home of an assistant coach.

“(He) just leaned over me and demanded that I needed to get rid of my unborn child and my partner,” the player, who was not named, told the ABC.

“I was then manipulated and convinced to remove my SIM card from my phone so there was no further contact between my family and me. They told me I’d be living with one of the other coaches from that night onwards.”

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