North Melbourne responds after Alastair Clarkson bombshell

Alastair Clarkson is stepping down to focus on his 'health and wellbeing', amid the ongoing AFL investigation into allegations of racism.

Alastair Clarkson.
Alastair Clarkson has stepped down as coach of North Melbourne for an indefinite period of time in order to focus on his health and wellbeing. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)

North Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson has announced he will be stepping down indefinitely, amid the ongoing AFL investigation into allegations of racism relating to his tenure at Hawthorn. Clarkson has strenuously denied the allegations ever since they were made public.

Former St Kilda coach Brett Ratten will take the reigns in his absence, with the Kangaroos releasing a statement on Thursday morning confirming that Clarkson would not be coaching the AFL club for the foreseeable future.

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“The club is providing its full support to Alastair and we commend him for making this important decision to put his health first,” North Melbourne president Dr Sonja Hood said. “Everyone involved has been deeply affected by the Hawthorn investigation and the burden on Alastair has been significant.

“We will give Alastair whatever time he needs to restore his health and look forward to welcoming him back when he is fully fit. We have strong leaders at our club who will step up and support and coach our team while Alastair spends time focusing on his health.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Brett Ratten’s experience and capability to coach the team in the interim.”

The investigation, which had originally been scheduled to hand down findings last December, is now stretching into its ninth month amid ongoing disputes between both parties. Clarkson will reportedly not attend a planned mediation session between the former Hawks players, the Hawthorn Football Club and himself, Chris Fagan and Jason Burt, which was scheduled for next week.

North Melbourne's football boss Todd Viney, who was recruited to complement Clarkson, said he the decision to step down had taken him by surprise, but also said he wasn't totally shocked given the considerable burden the long-running investigation has placed on the premiership coach. He said the Kangaroos' top priority was Clarkson's wellbeing, but predicted a return to the club potentially before the 2023 season ends.

“We feel really confident that you just need some time to heal," Viney said. "And he’ll be back and take control of the club again and help us get back to the battle of contending for silverware, get this club back to be in a position where we’re a great club.”

Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan said he was 'saddened' to learn of Clarkson's decision, again criticising the 'deeply flawed' investigation process he, Clarkson and Jason Burt were subject to. Clarkson last week described Hawthorn's conduct as 'shameful'.

“I think that was a window into his mindset at the time, and you got a good feel for the animosity he’s got towards the Hawthorn Football Club - a club that he served for 17 years, four premierships, had such an influence on so many people within that footy club for a process to unfold in such serious allegations to be had, and have no reply to that process has been enormously hurtful to him,” Viney said.

“And if you know Clarko, it’s about relationships. It’s about trust. It’s about family and when he commits to being part of your organisation, or family, he’s in 100 per cent. So to have that unfold like it has he’s been really bitterly disappointed and that’s taken its toll.”

Clarkson steps down after expressing frustration over investigation

Clarkson had been left frustrated after lead investigator, Bernard Quinn KC, revealed why the investigation was taking so long earlier in May. Quinn told The Age the major holdup related to a tranche of documents from Hawthorn that Clarkson, Fagan and Burt had requested, which were subject to the former Hawthorn players who made the allegations raising concerns about those documents containing 'personal, sensitive or private information' being handed over to the trio.

Earlier in May, Clarkson described the Hawthorn Football Club as the 'catalyst' for the investigation, suggesting that the club itself was not subject to scrutiny as part of the investigation. Clarkson also claimed the 'damage has been done', criticising Quinn for what he said was a breach of confidentiality by disclosing publicly why the investigation was taking so long.

Alastair Clarkson is pictured with Brett Ratten in the foreground.
Alastair Clarkson has stepped down from the Kangaroos indefinitely with Brett Ratten to coach in his place. (Photo by Steve Bell/Getty Images)

“There is one particular party that is the catalyst for all this that has not been investigated at all their governance and conduct in this whole thing - the Hawthorn Football Club - just shameful,” Clarkson said. “Let’s do an investigation on them and their practices and see how they go.”

The saga was sparked after a Hawthorn-led investigation in 2022 was handed to the AFL integrity unit without giving Clarkson, Fagan or Burt - all of whom had since moved on from the club - a chance to respond to it. All three have denied the allegations put forward which sparked the long-running probe.

Clarkson says he will see out the investigation process, but says he has little faith in the integrity of the AFL's pursuit of the claims made against him. The trio were accused of, and deny, accusation of historical racism during their tenure with the Hawks from 2005 onwards.

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