Indigenous players allegedly abused at Hawthorn should receive compensation and public apology, review recommends

<span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

The Hawthorn football club has been advised to provide monetary compensation and issue a public apology to First Nations players and families impacted by alleged “bullying and intimidation” at the AFL club.

The call for a “restitution package” is one of seven recommendations in an internally commissioned report published by the Herald Sun on Wednesday.

The Cultural Safety Review found a “strong theme” during interviews with 17 First Nations people that there was “little regard” for cultural safety or family values between 2010 and 2016.

Related: Author of Hawthorn review says alleged mistreatment of Indigenous players ‘like a nightmare’

“Bullying and intimidation tactics were reported to be used to isolate First Nations players from their families and communities,” the report states.

“It is also noted that partners of players who have tabled these serious allegations were in the early stages of pregnancy with two mothers losing their unborn child during these dramatic events.”

The review recommends the club “develops and offers a reparation and restitution package to the victims of negligence and abuse committed to them by the identified members of the HFC football department” and that the restitution “be in the manner of financial reparations and an official public apology”.

In one account, an ex-player alleged the former Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson stood over him in an “intimidating way” after he shared news of his partner’s pregnancy. It was alleged the coach demanded the Indigenous player get rid of his unborn child and “wild woman”.

“He told me to kill my kid,” the player alleged, according to the report. “They took the phone from me, replaced the sim card and then said that I will be living at [redacted] house from now on.”

The internal report recommends the findings of alleged “negligence and human rights abuses” towards First Nations players committed by Clarkson, the then-football manager Chris Fagan and development manager Jason Burt be reported to the AFL integrity unit.

The four-time Hawthorn premiership coach said on Wednesday he remained “shocked and deeply distressed” by the allegations of racism outlined in the review and feared his chances of a fair process could have been “irrevocably corrupted”.

Clarkson – recently appointed North Melbourne coach – last week emphatically denied the allegations.

He said on Wednesday the allegations were “false and deeply offensive” and those close to him knew “how important family is to me”.

“I have always carried this value into every organisation I have worked with,” the 54-year-old said in a statement.

“I acknowledge how difficult it is for any player, and in particular First Nations players, to tell their stories about deeply personal matters and I respect every player that has spoken to either the ABC or Phil Egan [the review’s author] as part of the Hawthorn football club process.

“However, as the allegations against me have been spread widely and sometimes presented as indisputable matters of fact, I must state that my clear memory of the matters reported is very different.”

Clarkson said it remained “profoundly disappointing that these matters are now being widely canvassed in the public domain without the opportunity being given to me or others to give our accounts or even read the Hawthorn report, which to this day I have not seen”.

“The further recent publication of purported extracts from the report means I now have grave concerns that any chance of a fair process and just outcome have been seriously undermined, if not irrevocably corrupted.”

Clarkson defended his treatment of all team members during his 17-year term as coach of Hawthorn, reiterating he had “always appreciated and respected” First Nations players and was “committed to acknowledging and understanding their many varied experiences”.

He reiterated he would cooperate with the AFL after delaying his start at North Melbourne but said he would “not hesitate” to take further steps to protect his position and reputation “should that be necessary”.

Fagan, now coaching Brisbane, has taken an indefinite period of leave from the club and released a statement this week categorically denying the allegations against him.

Burt this week released a statement to “categorically deny the conduct attributed to me in the media”.

“It is difficult to comment more fully in circumstances where I have never seen the report despite my lawyer asking the Hawthorn football club and the AFL for a copy,” Burt told the Herald Sun.

“In my time at Hawthorn, the welfare of all players, including First Nations players, was always my primary concern.”

Related: Hawthorn CEO says mistreatment allegations of First Nations players ‘a surprise to everyone’

The review recommended a general manager of Indigenous development be created; that a cultural safety and self-determination framework be developed; and that Indigenous cultural immersion training be made compulsory for all staff.

It stated that the research team considered some of the experiences to be “such serious allegations of abuse, racial vilification and bullying to amount to human rights abuses which require immediate mandatory reporting”.

The AFL Players’ Association has backed a club-by-club review, saying the league clearly “has an issue with the treatment of First Nations and multicultural players”.

A spokesperson for Hawthorn said the club would “cooperate” with the ongoing process when asked whether monetary compensation could be paid.

Previously, Hawthorn’s chief executive officer, Justin Reeves, labelled the allegations “heartbreaking” and said they came as a “surprise to everyone”.

The AFL has appointed an external independent panel to investigate the findings. The league’s chief executive officer, Gillon McLachlan, described the report as a “challenging, harrowing and disturbing” read.