North boss says Hawks' handling of racism claims 'poor'
Hawthorn have received scathing criticism from AFL rivals North Melbourne for their handling of racism allegations, with the Hawks accused of establishing "a monumental set of battle lines".
Two days after Kangaroos coach Alastair Clarkson stunned the game by taking indefinite leave, North president Dr Sonja Hood says the Hawks' initial report and their response to it was "poor".
Also on Saturday, Hawks president Andy Gowers separately issued a statement defending the club's handling of the claims, saying that the only body who could investigate them was the AFL integrity unit.
There were media reports on Saturday that Clarkson, Chris Fagan and Jason Burt could be exonerated by the AFL, based on available evidence.
But incoming AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon said late on Saturday afternoon that he did not yet have a timeline on when the league-appointed independent investigation might reach a resolution.
The long-running Hawthorn racism saga took its latest dramatic turn on Thursday morning when North announced Clarkson was taking leave for his mental and physical well-being.
Clarkson, Fagan and Burt strongly deny the claims made against them, which date back to when they worked at Hawthorn.
The AFL formed an independent investigation into the claims eight months ago, but the process has become bogged down and the inquiry is yet to interview Clarkson, Fagan or Burt.
"We need to find a way to build bridges, not battle lines," Hood said in her speech before Saturday's home game against Sydney.
"Hawthorn's report was poor, and its response to it was poor - but I would like to think it was created with good intentions.
"But it did not create a bridge to deal with hurt. It set up a monumental set of battle lines.
"The AFL was in an insidious position and its response probably felt like it made sense, but eight months on no one can honestly believe it's been the right process. And it certainly has not provided a bridge."
Gowers sent out a letter to Hawthorn members on Saturday, explaining how the club came to be aware of the allegations and what it did about them.
"The initial report was a welfare check only; at that point, it was not an investigation," he said.
"Those who conducted the welfare check were not an investigative body - that, quite rightly, would and should be done via AFL Integrity.
"We provided the information to AFL Integrity, as we are required to do, to carry out that investigation.
"Before those allegations could be tested, and before those accused were afforded the opportunity to respond to them, media reports surfaced that published the allegations.
"This included information we became aware of during the welfare check, but further details as well. This was deeply unfair to all involved."
Clarkson's bombshell announcement came on the eve of the AFL's Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous round.
On Saturday, Essendon great Michael Long announced he was making his Long Walk to Canberra again this year to support the voice referendum.
Speaking at the announcement in Melbourne, Dillon said the Hawthorn saga is a "really complex and sensitive issue".
"We're cognisant of the feelings of everyone involved and we're working towards a timely resolution.
"The terms of reference allow for a mediated outcome. We're working with the parties towards that, but we don't have a timeline."
Long, one of the AFL's greatest Indigenous figures, is optimistic a resolution can be achieved.
"I've seen what Australian Rules footy has done. I've seen what happened in '93 with Nicky Winmar," he said.
"I've seen what Australian Rules football has done, knocking down barriers and opening up opportunities for our young men and women now."