MELBOURNE - The independent investigation into allegations of mistreatment of indigenous players at the Hawthorn club must balance speed with due process, Australian Rules chief Gillon McLachlan said on Friday.
The Australian Football League (AFL) has promised an investigation into "serious allegations" about coercive control of the former players, including one that coaches urged a player to have his partner's pregnancy aborted.
"I think the right response is we will expedite it because we need to for both the courageous claimants and for those accused," AFL chief executive McLachlan said.
"But ... we need the right panel, we need the right process, and everyone needs to feel safe telling their story. They do clash a little, we have to find that right balance, and we are working assiduously toward that."
The allegations about the unnamed players were contained in an independent review commissioned by Hawthorn and reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Wednesday.
Former Hawthorn head coach Alastair Clarkson and his onetime assistant Chris Fagan have flatly denied any wrongdoing during their time at the Melbourne-based club.
Both have stood down form their current roles at other clubs pending the probe and released statements saying they would cooperate with the investigation.
McLachlan is, however, also coming under pressure to investigate the treatment of indigenous players at every club in the league.
"What is clear is that the AFL industry has an issue with the treatment of First Nations and multicultural players," Paul Marsh, the head of the player's union, told the Herald Sun.
"These are, at their core, human rights issues. To move forward, the industry has to understand, acknowledge and seek to repair the issues of the past."
Hawthorn chief executive Justin Reeves sent a letter to fans on Friday explaining that the review was commissioned after media reports earlier this year about the poor experiences of indigenous player Cyril Rioli at the club.
"Around two weeks ago we received the results of that work. And as you can now see, some of those stories are disturbing," he wrote.
"We are profoundly heartbroken that there are people who feel like this about their experience at our club."
In a measure of how important the sport is in its southern heartlands, the people of the state of Victoria were on Friday enjoying the public holiday observed every year on the eve of the AFL Grand Final.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)