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Major update in AFL probe as Chris Fagan slams 'farce' process

The AFL's investigation into allegations of racism at Hawthorn has been abruptly ended, after the league reached an agreement complainants.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachan is pictured on the left, with Chris Fagan seen on the right.

The AFL has announced the independent investigation into allegations against former Hawthorn coaches Alastair Clarkson, Chris Fagan and Jason Burt has been concluded, after an agreement was reached with the families who made the allegations. The agreement means the AFL investigation which has gone on for eight months, chaired by Bernard Quinn KC, will close with no findings against the AFL.

Further actions from the original complainants through the Australian Human Rights Commission has not been ruled out - however the agreement means families will not take action against the AFL itself should that action proceed. The AFL has made no adverse findings against Clarkson, Fagan and Burt, with all three having strenuously denied all allegations from the outset.

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The news caught the AFL world by surprise when league CEO Gillon McLachlan fronted a press conference on Tuesday evening. McLachlan confirmed the families had not been given any financial compensation as part of the agreement to end the investigation.

The investigation was first initiated in 2022, after Hawthorn's 'cultural safety review', also known as the Binmada Report, resulted in allegations emerging as a result of an ABC report detailing incidents raised by past First Nations players from the club.

“The AFL knows that during the long history of our game there have been instances of racism and that players have been marginalised, hurt or discriminated against because of their race and for that we say sorry,” an AFL statement read. While the agreement means the AFL will not be pursued further, other legal options remain open to the former Hawthorn players involved, while the AFL has also not ruled out action being taken against the Hawks under AFL rules.

"This is an imperfect resolution and I want to reiterate the way this report emerged has led to a period of high distress for all parties," McLachlan said. "It was always going to be difficult to find an outcome."

Chris Fagan shreds 'farce of a process' after AFL announcement

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.

"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.

Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan.
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)

“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."

Hawthorn could potentially still be sanctioned under AFL rules, with more to play out 'with respect to the commissioning and oversight' of the Binmada Report, according to the AFL's statement. McLachlan said there were a range of rules Hawthorn could potentially faces sanctions under regarding their handling of the report.

"That will be a decision for the general counsel and/or the commission, obviously there's a broad range of rules (such as) conduct unbecoming or bringing the game in to disrepute," he said. "I'm not pre-empting it but I'm certainly not ruling that out."

Further sanctions against Hawthorn not ruled out by AFL

The AFL statement said six complainants had agreed to the resolution, but they do not represent all six of the families who are understood to have made the initial allegations. Significantly, the AFL also noted separate legal action could still happen.

"The AFL is only able to impose sanctions for breaches of AFL rules on persons subject to the AFL rules and respects the right of the various parties to the investigation (and those who decided not to participate) to pursue claims in other legal forums," the league said. "Today's outcomes do not interfere with those rights."

McLachlan said the way Hawthorn handled the process where initial allegations were made put many parties involved in a "hugely vulnerable situation". The Hawks saga started last year after former Indigenous star Cyril Rioli and his wife Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli publicly claimed they were treated poorly during their time at the club.

That prompted a Hawthorn review of current and former Indigenous players, which led to the bombshell racism claims being leaked to the media last September. The AFL set up the four-person inquiry eight months ago.

"We support all parties doing what they want to do from here. I'm not making a comment whether they should or should not," McLachlan said of potential legal action.

"This has been a very difficult period for everyone involved. It's one of the more challenging things that I've seen in the game and I just want to acknowledge the pain and toll of all involved."

With AAP

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