Hawthorn champion Shaun Burgoyne has taken the AFL to task over a lack of understanding about Indigenous issues following the league’s bungled handling of vaccinations.
The AFL has vowed to take responsibility for all future issues relating to vaccines after Indigenous players were left hurt and distressed when the 2020 season resumed in June after the COVID-19 postponement.
AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has delivered a second formal apology to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players after a review into the required vaccination protocol.
Burgoyne, who is the AFL Players’ Indigenous Advisory Board chair, has accepted the findings of the review but pleaded for the competition to do better.
“It was of utmost importance to the players that their concerns around this serious issue were heard and addressed, not just for players and their families, but for our Indigenous community more broadly”, Burgoyne said.
“The handling of this situation demonstrated a lack of cultural awareness and safety by the AFL, and the players and their families were impacted as a result.
“It was done without appropriate thought, and, without appropriate consultation with our representatives, we were left without a voice.
“For too long, Indigenous voices have been neglected in matters that impact them, and we hope this issue is a catalyst for positive change.
“By ensuring that Indigenous players are central to the decisions that impact them, we are confident that we have paved a more positive future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our great game.”
The AFL initially said all players had been required to receive a flu vaccination ahead of entering Queensland for the season restart.
But AFLPA boss Paul Marsh at the time hit out at that suggestion, saying there had not been enough information provided around the vaccine requirements.
The AFL has admitted it should have investigated the request from the Queensland Government – and whether it had any medical basis – before detailing it to Indigenous players.
On Tuesday, Marsh added the AFL had a chance to right some wrongs from the past in making the competition a more welcoming place for Indigenous players.
“It was completely unacceptable for our Indigenous players to be discriminated against by requiring only them to be vaccinated, and this has had a deep impact on many of our Indigenous players and their families,” he said.
“I’d encourage all of us in the industry to reflect on how we can educate ourselves and get better from this experience.”
McLachlan thanked all involved in the review, particularly the IAB.
“The work has helped us identify the issue and put in place a number of initiatives to safeguard future decisions,” he said.