The Australian Football League (AFL) made a landmark announcement last night, concluding the seven-month-long Independent Panel Investigation into the allegations of misconduct at Hawthorn Football Club. The investigation was sparked by the premature leak of the club’s internal Binmada report, which plunged all parties into a period of intense distress and public scrutiny.

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 30: AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan speaks to the media during a press conference at AFL House on May 30, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. McLachlan spoke about the outcomes in relation to the Independent Panel Investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct at the Hawthorn Hawks. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

In a striking turn of events, the AFL revealed that no adverse findings have been made against any individuals subject to the allegations. The announcement also unveiled that the six complainants involved in the process chose not to pursue further actions against the AFL or the now-terminated Independent Panel Investigation.

While this may appear to close one chapter, the AFL hinted at a new one. The league did not rule out the possibility of bringing charges against Hawthorn FC concerning the commissioning and oversight of the Binmada Report, showing its commitment to accountability within the sport.

In a broader context, the AFL used the announcement to highlight its ongoing dedication to combat racism and enhance cultural safety within the league. An open apology was issued for the instances of racism, marginalisation, and discrimination that players have experienced due to their race, acknowledging the painful history that has marred the sport.

In the wake of this controversial period, the AFL has unveiled an extensive list of initiatives designed to foster inclusion and safety in the league. These initiatives signal a significant commitment to systemic and cultural changes, touching on all aspects of the game from governance to training, community engagement, and strategic partnerships.

The league’s ambitious plans include boosting Indigenous representation on all 18 AFL club boards and increasing cultural diversity within the AFL umpiring and officiating. Moreover, the AFL aims to establish risk management strategies related to cultural capability and develop a comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment and retention strategy.

Training and education were also central themes in the AFL’s commitments. The league has pledged to expand its cultural safety and awareness training programs and make resources available to community leagues and clubs. This includes information sessions on tackling online abuse and the implementation of culturally appropriate well-being models for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and staff.

In a bid to engage more actively with the community, the AFL will also set up a centralised racial vilification tribunal model for community football leagues and clubs. It is expected to work closely with AFL and AFLW players on advocating for community racism and inclusion issues.

Furthermore, the AFL intends to establish strategic partnerships to tackle spectator racism and online abuse. Some of these partners reportedly include eSafety Commissioner, social media giant Meta, and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In his closing remarks, Bernard Quinn KC, the Chairman of the Independent Panel, expressed his support for the agreement and outcomes announced today. He confirmed the immediate cessation of the Panel’s work, marking the end of this tumultuous chapter.

While the AFL’s announcement provides a conclusion to the investigation, it importantly serves as a launching pad for systemic change. With its extensive commitment to anti-racism and cultural safety initiatives, the AFL has shown its dedication to not just acknowledging past mistakes, but actively seeking to rectify them for a safer, more inclusive game.