The Australian Football League is investigating claims Aboriginal players at one of its most successful clubs were bullied by senior coaching staff.
Players were isolated from family, told to break up with their partners, and in one case, ordered to end a pregnancy, according to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report.
Hawthorn Football Club has promised to investigate the “disturbing” claims.
They were uncovered by a review of the team’s treatment of Indigenous people.
The ABC, which appears to be familiar with the contents of the report, interviewed three unnamed players who were at the Melbourne club – also known as the Hawks – between 2005 and 2021.
They told the broadcaster they were forced to choose between their careers and their families.
One said coaching staff had “demanded that I needed to get rid of my unborn child and my partner”.
“I was then manipulated and convinced to remove my SIM card from my phone so there was no further contact between my family and me. They told me I’d be living with one of the other coaches from that night onward,” he said.
His partner did not go through with an abortion and the couple reconciled within months.
But when she became pregnant again soon after the birth of their first child, the woman told the ABC she felt she needed to end that pregnancy to avoid a repeat ordeal.
Another player told the ABC Hawthorn reacted similarly when they learned his partner was pregnant.
He was forced to break up with her and cut off contact. She later miscarried.
A third player – who was from another state – told the investigation the club had actively tried to stop his young family from relocating to Melbourne to be with him.
All three couples spoke about their mental health struggles since the incidents.
The report detailing the allegations was reportedly received by Hawthorn two weeks ago, according to ABC, and then passed on to Australian Football League (AFL) officials.
Speaking to media on Wednesday, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan called the ABC’s report “a challenging, harrowing and disturbing read”.
“It’s hard to find more serious allegations,” he said.
An independent panel, to be led by an eminent lawyer, will be appointed to investigate them, he said.
And a decision on whether the coaching officials should be stood down while that takes place will be made by clubs today.
A Hawthorn spokesperson said the review had raised “disturbing historical allegations” but had also indicated the current environment at the club is “culturally safe”.
“The club will continue to provide support to those who have participated in this process, and their wellbeing remains our priority,” they added.
Several star players from multiple AFL teams have complained of racist abuse from stadium crowds and poor support from club officials in recent years.
Indigenous AFL legend Adam Goodes says years of abuse from rival fans left him “heartbroken” and led to him retiring in 2015.
And a review into a separate Melbourne club – Collingwood – last year found it was guilty of “systemic racism”.