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The Impact of a Leak: How Hawthorn's First Nations Welfare Report Shook the AFL

In the wake of the leaked report on the welfare of First Nations players at Hawthorn Football Club, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan expressed the league's desire to identify the source of the leak. McLachlan stated that the AFL is actively seeking answers regarding the disclosure of Hawthorn's First Nations welfare review.

Last month, the independent panel responsible for investigating allegations of racism at Hawthorn between 2008 and 2016 was disbanded. No adverse findings were made against former coach Alastair Clarkson, former football manager Chris Fagan, or welfare manager Jason Burt under AFL rules. From the beginning, Clarkson, Fagan, and Burt vehemently denied any involvement in the alleged misconduct.

However, Cyril Rioli, a four-time Hawthorn premiership star, recently disclosed that he was one of the six complainants who intend to take their case to the Human Rights Commission. Gillon McLachlan expressed his disappointment in the manner in which the allegations were first made public through an ABC news report last September. In an official statement, McLachlan emphasized that the leak did not serve the best interests of any party involved.

"The parties acknowledge that the manner in which their allegations were leaked to the media was not in any party's best interests," McLachlan read out in an AFL statement.

During a radio interview, McLachlan emphasized his determination to uncover the source of the leak, stating that it had caused significant distress and pain. While acknowledging that the AFL is conducting an inquiry, he deemed it highly unlikely that the league itself would have leaked such information. McLachlan also acknowledged that the leak had placed all parties involved - the complainants, defendants, club, and the league - in a vulnerable position.

"I'd really like to know because I think it's sort of caused a lot of angst and a lot of pain," McLachlan told 3AW radio.

"Yeah, we're asking some questions.

"I think it'd be a pretty implausible scenario, though, that the AFL would leak something like that.

"I think the way it leaked put everyone in a more vulnerable position - the complainants, the defendants, the club, the League."

The Binmada Report, which detailed the distressing allegations about the welfare of First Nations players, was initially shared with Hawthorn management. However, before the AFL or Hawthorn had an opportunity to respond, the ABC released a report just days before last year's Grand Final. McLachlan expressed his belief that the initial leak of the report had significantly hindered the investigation process, making it challenging to arrive at a conclusive outcome.

According to McLachlan, the defendants in this case have not violated AFL rules, and the complainants are content with the agreed-upon process. However, they retain the option to pursue their rights through other channels. McLachlan concluded by stating that the conclusion of the independent investigation marked the end of the official response to the report received by the AFL.

"Once that report was leaked and the people [against] whom the allegations were made, it was always going to be an incredibly difficult situation to get to the bottom of," he said.

"I think for the defendants it's clear there has not been a breach of the AFL rules. The complainants are parties to the agreement, they are happy with the process, and they have the opportunity, if they want, to pursue their rights in other forums.

"People can take this wherever they want, but it's the end of the independent investigation that came out of the report that was handed to us."

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