Hawthorn champion Cyril Rioli has revealed himself as one of four former Hawthorn players and staff at the centre of the long-running scandal enveloping the club. Rioli and his wife Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli, along with former players Jermaine Miller-Lewis and Carl Peterson, and former club staffer Leon Egan published an open letter on Friday afternoon declaring their intention to take their case to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Three others involved in the saga have chosen to stay anonymous, however the involvement of Rioli has left the AFL world stunned. The AFL announced earlier in the week that its independent investigation into allegations raised against the club and former coaches Alastair Clarkson, Chris Fagan and Jason Burt would come to an immediate end, with no adverse finding made against the trio.
'ENORMOUS COURAGE': Carlton coach praises Harry McKay 'vulnerability'
Hawthorn's initial effort to reach out to former First Nations players was prompted after Rioli revealed his retirement from the AFL in 2018 had been sparked by an incident earlier that year, involving his wife and then-club president Jeff Kennett. The club apologised in the wake of the couple's story when it emerged in 2022, prompting them to begin what would ultimately be known as the 'Binmada report' into the welfare of past Indigenous players.
What that report uncovered alarmed the club to such an extent that they turned it over to the AFL integrity unit, sparking the subsequent stalled independent investigation. In the statement, published by the group's lawyer Leon Swier, they said they had 'never asked for money', instead wanting Hawthorn to be accountable for their past treatment.
"We are some of the Indigenous families who endured racism at the Hawthorn Football Club," the letter states. "We were separated from our families.
"We were told an unborn child would ruin our futures. We were treated as special projects and control of our lives was taken from us.
"We told our truths in confidence, because we believed that it would bring change."
Cyril Rioli and his wife are leading the charge against Hawthorn at the Human Rights Commission. This is the open letter from the four former players and their families. @FootyonNine @9NewsMelb pic.twitter.com/CdFWAnFwX5
— Nat Yoannidis (@NatYoannidis) June 2, 2023
The group also explained why they reached an agreement with the AFL, believing they had secured a legally-binding obligation from the league to combat racism within its ranks. They also stated in the letter that nobody deserved the 'public s**tshow' that resulted after allegations were made public.
"But they will hear us one way or another," the letter reads. "We also believe that with the passing of time the Hawthorn Football Club will acknowledge that our suffering and pain was real.
"We reached an agreement with the AFL not out of fear, but strength, because the AFL finally apologised to all First Nations players for racism in football."
Cyril Rioli goes public amid massive development in Hawthorn crisis
Clarkson, Fagan and Burt have all vehemently denied any wrongdoing since the allegations surfaced via an ABC report last September. Fagan and Burt released scathing statements following this week's announcement of the shutting down of the AFL's independent panel set up to investigate the allegations, which focused on a period between 2008 and 2016.
Now-Brisbane Lions coach Fagan blasted the process as a farce, saying he was vindicated and would welcome the chance to test the claims in a public court. Clarkson remains on indefinite leave as North Melbourne coach after stepping away three weeks ago due to what he described as the emotional and mental toll associated with the saga.
A week prior to going on leave, Clarkson unloaded on Hawthorn, describing his former club's handling of the situation as "shameful" and calling for the Hawks to be investigated.
Rioli is one of the most celebrated players in Hawthorn's history, racking up 189 games between 2008 and 2018.
The exciting forward played in all four of the Clarkson-coached premiership teams and was awarded the Norm Smith Medal for his performance in the 2015 grand final.
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.