The Players’ Association calls on a human rights warrior and urges the league to put the people before the brand

“Our industry is economically strong and the game is in good shape,” Marsh said, “but [if you ask] If we deal appropriately with human rights issues across all competitions, then the answer is no.”


The AFL wants to form a unified support position for the Voice of Parliament. It hosts the Sir Doug Nicholls Round honoring First Nations players and a Pride Round at AFLW. Should a player have trouble participating in any of these themed games, Marsh said the existence of a human rights charter would handle such difficult situations.

Marsh and Hilton, who also held senior positions at Legal Aid and most recently completed a review of Victoria’s prison system, said the league has too often prioritized its own brand and competitive advantage over people.

“We need to be better at supporting people,” Hilton said. “Too often there is a fear of blame or, even worse, the pressure of not responding properly.

“We have to keep reaffirming with words and deeds that people are supported. Had all this been in place then Adelaide (camp) would not have happened.”

Speaking of the AFL’s contributions, she added, “It takes deeper thought, commitment and resources because (the game) has really just rolled from one incident or scandal to the next.”

With the AFL looking to finalize a concussion-focused player hardship fund and players negotiating a range of issues in the CBA along with the next pay deal, Marsh expected some backlash from the league and clubs, who fear potentially costly legal settlements move in to fix missteps and worse from the game’s past.

“I think that’s what people fear most,” Marsh said, “the question of what we’re opening up to from our past … and we’ve thought long and hard about what to call that because it’s in our Country “human rights” are seen very differently than in the US and some other countries.

“But looking back at the thorny issues I have had to deal with in resolving various conflicts, too often commercial, branding and performance issues have stood in the way of prioritizing the people involved.

“I’m sure the AFL would say people matter and I don’t doubt that, but I’m not sure about making decisions that are always in the best interest of those people.”

“I think that’s what people fear most… the question of what we’re tapping into from our past.”

AFLPA chief Paul Marsh

Hilton previously led the investigation into the Victoria Fire Brigade – those findings were suppressed by the fire service union – and an investigation into Victorian police and manufacturing industry.

After dealing primarily with issues of sexual harassment and discrimination in these cases, both Hilton and Marsh anticipated gender issues, racism, and health and safety to underscore the key human rights issues faced by the game. Hilton said she hopes to develop a close relationship with the league’s integrity department.

“Hopefully there’s no tension between the AFL and the AFLPA here, because that affects the entire AFL,” she said. “Human rights should not mean a competitive advantage. Many clubs were confronted with the problems in Collingwood, for example.

“In terms of the recovery process, this requires a real sense of humility, not rejection. It may involve monetary compensation, it may involve an apology, or it may simply involve education. It’s not necessarily a civil trial, and it’s not necessarily an adversarial trial.


“It may be a case of [saying] “We recognize the impact this situation or issue has had on not only you but your family as well. We can look forward to restorative justice that can be mutually beneficial.”

Although he called the game’s failure to adequately protect players in the past “an industry-wide issue,” Marsh said the AFL Players Association will review its own practices before seeking an AFL commitment. In the upcoming CBA, AFL and AFLW players are pushing for up to 32 percent of the game’s total revenue. Under the current proposal, women would receive up to 15 percent of the players’ total salary.

The AFLPA’s 10-member Human Rights Steering Committee is expected to meet four to six times a year. It will include two current players and one former player, as well as the chair of the Indigenous Advisory Group. Marsh and AFLPA executive Brett Murphy will also serve on the committee.

The Committee has adopted the four key principles of the United Nations – policy, due diligence, effective remedies, and continued engagement and communication.

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Ryan Sederquist

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