Judge, jury and executioner — the AFL’s iron grip authority is being challenged

The AFL has discovered being a judge, jury and executioner in an investigation into itself is no longer acceptable, and its authority is being challenged by those at the heart of the game’s latest racism furore with the Federal Government watching developments closely.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has been unable to deliver on his promise to name an investigative panel within 24 hours of “harrowing” abuse allegations by First Nations players at the Hawthorn Football Club, with no agreement in place as to what the process will involve, nor confirmation of who will oversee it.

The allegations include players being removed from their family homes, sim cards being changed in their mobile phones to prevent contact with partners and family members, and in one instance a player pressured to have his partner’s pregnancy terminated.

One of the defendant, former Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson who has denied any wrongdoing, released a second statement this week, also stating he was “trying to retain [his] trust” in the AFL’s proposed investigation.

All parties remain in limbo heading into a second week since the story broke, with the AFL’s most senior staff frantically trying to find a solution with a growing realization they may have to cede control to an outside entity, possibly the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Gillon McLachlan speaks at a lecture in front of microphones
Gillon McLachlan addresses the media regarding allegations made against Hawthorn Football Club.(Getty Images: Morgan Hancock)

The AFL is renowned for maintaining complete control over every aspect of the sport including the investigation of complaints through its Integrity Unit.

Running such a tight ship is seen as a source of pride for many in a code that boasts the biggest crowds, the biggest television rights deals, and many of the most watched television programs in a sports-bloated country.

Others, however, have questioned how a sport can constantly investigate itself with little to no consequence for those who’ve overseen the response to a swelling number of racism scandals.

An external game-wide review may be the only way to address systemic failings that have continued under the watch of AFL Commission chairman Richard Goyder and McLachlan.

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