The AFL has issued an unreserved apology and has vowed to make changes, after the distress caused from the code’s ‘Return to Play’ protocols this year.
In order to resume the AFL competition, Queensland had requested that all players receive the flu vaccination.
However, a last minute request was also made for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players to get the pneumococcal vaccination as well.
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But the vaccination is only mandatory for Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islanders who are children or over the age of 50, with the national immunisation program dictating no guidelines for those in the AFL players’ age bracket.
It’s understood the request was passed on from the AFL to its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players immediately, without properly questioning why or even if Queensland could make that request.
Following a review, the AFL has today reiterated its initial apology made in July, and says it failed to ‘sufficiently consider or ensure adherence with cultural safety principles’.
“On behalf of the AFL I sincerely apologise to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, staff and families for any distress this issue caused,” AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan said
“I want to thank everyone who participated in the review, including the AFLPA and the players’ Indigenous Advisory Board – the work has helped us identify the issue and put in place a number of initiatives to safeguard future decisions.
“A strength of our game is that it brings together people from many backgrounds and we must ensure everyone is treated equally and respectfully at all times,” he said.
The AFL has now promised to develop a bespoke cultural awareness and safety training program in consultation with the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), Australian Indigenous Psychological Association (AIPA) and other Indigenous education experts for relevant industry participants and stakeholders and consult with the AFLPA in the development of that program.
AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh has welcomed the apology and says the agreed actions are critical in allowing the industry to move forward.
“The situation has highlighted that whilst we have made progress as an industry on matters relating to our Indigenous players, we still have a long way to go”, he said.
“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, as well as some club staff.
“I applaud the Indigenous players for speaking out on this issue. Through the agreed actions we will see positive change, and I’d encourage all of us in the industry to reflect on how we can educate ourselves and get better from this experience.
“We have a great opportunity to make a positive shift as an industry on the back of this. We need to get ahead of issues like this and be clear on what is and isn’t acceptable through our policies and planning.
“To do this, the player voice has to be heard from the beginning of any decision-making processes involving them. Through this approach we will have policies and processes that properly respect the rights of all players.”