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Hawthorn respond after shock AFL move to drop racism investigation

Hawthorn president Andy Gowers says it would be unfair for the AFL to financially sanction in the wake of a highly-publicised investigation being closed.

Hawthorn president Andy Gowers has urged the AFL not to impose financial sanctions on the club, believing it would be unfair to do so since the club referred the discovery of serious allegations to the integrity unit in a timely manner. Pictures: Getty Images

Hawthorn president Andy Gowers says the initial leak of information gathered from the club's internal investigation into it's treatment of First Nations players was ultimately responsible for the subsequent AFL probe reaching a stalemate. The AFL announced on Tuesday evening that the independent investigation would be ended after six parties involved agreed to bring it to a close, with no adverse findings made against key figures Alastair Clarkson, Chris Fagan and Jason Burt.

The aforementioned trio consistently denied the allegations, however AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has left the door open for Hawthorn itself to be sanctioned under league rules. In his press conference on Tuesday, McLachlan said, without committing the league to such action, that charges of conduct unbecoming or bringing the game into disrepute were on the table.

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Gowers said he would be disappointed if the AFL pursued that option, given the club had referred itself to the AFL integrity unit once the initial report was finalised. Speaking to the media on Wednesday in the wake of the AFL investigation being wound up, he said it was important to remember the saga began not with a report being commissioned, but by doing a welfare check on past First Nations players that eventually became formalised into the report.

Once it became clear that the problems were more widespread, their findings were delivered to the AFL, resulting in the subsequent investigation which concluded on Tuesday. He said the leak did not allow for a 'fair and just' process to play out.

“It wasn‘t commissioned as a report to start, but it was a welfare check on our past First Nations players and staff, it was leaked, and that blew everything up,” he said. “We simply wanted to check in on the wellbeing of past First Nations players and staff to see if they needed any extra support, the club provided that report to AFL Integrity, not only because we are required to do so, but it was also the appropriate avenue to have the allegations tested and investigated.

“It was also our expectation that this would allow all parties to give their versions of events as Gillon said last night, the leaking of that work had a significant impact – it did not allow for a just and fair process.”

Gowers said he would be 'extremely disappointed' if the situation resulted in a financial sanction against the club, believing they had fulfilled their obligations to refer their report to the AFL Integrity Unit once the scope of what it contained became apparent.

“Of course, we’d be extremely disappointed if this matter led to sanctions, including financial,” he said. “But what I would say is we went into this process with the best of intention. I don’t think anybody is questioning that.”

He said the club does not know where the leak, which resulted in a story published by the ABC's Russell Jackson, originated from. Had the information remained confidential, Gowers believes all parties would have had a fair opportunity to tell their side of the story.

Instead, the AFL probe was stalled as parties could not reach an agreement on documents containing private information being exchanged. Former club president Jeff Kennett, who was in charge when the allegations first came to light, said he would be shocked if the AFL sanctioned the Hawks as a result.

“We did what any organisation would do. What did Hawthorn do wrong ?” he said. “We did whatever we could do to get answers and when we got answers, horrifying as they were, we did what we had to do, handed it over to (AFL) integrity.”

Former Hawthorn figure Chris Fagan lashes investigation 'farce'

McLachlan acknowledged that the situation had been a difficult one for all involved. In the wake of the announcement, Fagan issued a statement of his own saying the process amounted to a 'travesty of justice'.

“I have been in footy for a long time – most of my life,” Fagan’s statement read. “In that time I have had the interests of the welfare of my players as my foremost consideration. I have treated all players with equality and fairness.

“I have always respected the tremendous contribution that First Nations people have made to our game and I respect them greatly. I always have. I always will.

No findings have been made by the AFL against Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan as a result of the investigation into allegations relating to their time at Hawthorn, which they have consistently denied. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
No findings have been made by the AFL against Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan as a result of the investigation into allegations relating to their time at Hawthorn, which they have consistently denied. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

"And I am conscious that this farce of a process cannot have been easy on those First Nations people who were complainants. Those whom I knew, I hold no grudges against and hold only a wish that whatever pain they are suffering can be healed over time.

“These matters are also fully justified. I have always categorically denied all of the allegations against me. The allegations are false. I am completely innocent. I have never deviated from that position as I knew from the beginning that the allegations were false. I have never had my chance to publicise my position on the allegations that the ABC chose to air publicly.

“I have made no concessions. There are none to make. I have always vigorously defended myself, and will always do so, as I have done nothing wrong."

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