AFL news 2022: Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett breaks silence on Cyril Rioli’s bombshell claim

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has broken his silence on Cyril Rioli’s bombshell “gaslighting” claims that rocked the footy community.

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has broken his silence on Cyril Rioli’s bombshell “gaslighting” claims, declaring the club is “conducting further inquiries to see if there might have been other incidents affecting past First Nations players”.

Earlier this week, Rioli revealed his decision to retire prematurely in 2018 was influenced by an offensive comment Kennett made to his wife, Shannyn Ah Sam-Rioli.

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The Age reports it stemmed from an incident at Launceston Airport during Indigenous round of that year, with what Cyril described as the “final straw” of a string of other events with regards to the Hawks’ relationship with their Indigenous players.

It’s believed Kennett commented on Shannyn’s designer ripped jeans at the airport, offering loose change to help sew them up — comments he claims was a joke.

“I felt belittled and humiliated,” Shannon told The Age.

“The club kept saying I was overreacting, but they were portraying me as the angry black woman. They said later I had wanted to go home to Darwin for a while. That’s not right.”

In the fallout, Cyril missed training and it led to crisis meetings at Hawthorn involving the likes of Kennett, football boss Graham Wright, coach Alastair Clarkson, Cyril’s manager Adam Ramanauskas and teammate Shaun Burgoyne.

The Riolis detailed multiple allegations of racist behaviour at the club, including one incident where a “senior player” asked teammates on a post-season trip in 2013 whether the partner of an Indigenous player who was present at the time was “also a b***g”.

Shannyn also stated she twice urged the club to improve its poor cultural awareness practices without significant actions being taken in response.

In a text message exchange between Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell and Rioli, the three-time All-Australian accused the club of “gaslighting” him towards the end of his playing career, claiming the “AFL needs to change in a significant way”.

Kennett publicly addressed the accusations for the first time on Wednesday in an open letter to Hawthorn members, pledging to investigate the alleged racism that saw star Rioli prematurely retire.

Kennett’s open letter to members

“Dear Hawkers,” it started.

“Well, we are clearly seeing glimpses of what the future holds for our club.

“Last week’s game against Carlton was a great one. Sadly, we did not get over the line and collect the four points, but we lost nothing else.

“In fact, the way the team came back after a difficult first quarter was fantastic to watch.

“We won three quarters but lost the first comprehensively.

“That said, the team never gave up, they tackled hard and moved the ball at great speed.

“We are now 2-1 from the first three games, having lost the last by a point.

“Our investment in players and style of play continues, but it has been an exciting start to the year.

“We now move on to the game against St Kilda on Sunday at the MCG where I hope to see as many of you as possible.

“Let me address the report published in The Age newspaper on Saturday concerning Cyril Rioli and his wife Shannyn.

“We were all saddened by the story that there had been incidents that had upset both he and his wife.

“We have taken those claims seriously and are conducting further inquiries to see if there might have been other incidents affecting our past First Nations players.

“Once those inquires have concluded, we will determine if any other action needs to be taken.

I can assure you that the Board and the administration will not shirk our responsibility to work through these matters.

“Some will demand immediate answers and actions, but, given how important these matters are, the best response is a measured and responsible one.

“We will firstly seek to establish the facts, before working through the best way of responding to the matters that require addressing.

“Matters have been brought to our attention. We are taking them seriously, and any failings will be addressed.

“Can I finally say on this matter: we all want Cyril back with us at Hawthorn. I hope that we can work through the hurt he feels and make him feel welcome and safe in the brown and gold family again.

“Go Hawks!”

Hawks for Change full statement

“Hawks for Change is deeply disappointed and concerned by reports that Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett made highly inappropriate remarks which led to distress for Cyril Rioli, his wife and their family which resulted in their subsequent departure from the Hawthorn Football Club.

“Jeff Kennett’s disrespect of the Rioli family is the latest shameful example of why he is not fit to serve as President of our beloved football club. Jeff Kennett, through his actions, has again brought the reputation of the Hawthorn Football Club into disrepute.

“Cyril Rioli has confirmed he will not re-engage with the Hawthorn Football Club while Jeff Kennett remains associated with the club. Cyril told The Age “I wouldn’t want to be there while he’s (Jeff Kennett) there”. This is no way to treat a four-time Hawthorn premiership player.

“We are disappointed to see further reports in the media today about previous inappropriate behaviour including Jeff proudly talking in the media about owning a golliwog called “Buddy”.

“Thanks to Hawks for Change, Jeff previously agreed to step down by 30 June 2022.

“Hawks for Change now calls on Jeff Kennett to resign immediately and directors of the Hawthorn Football Club must take a stand and seek Jeff’s resignation today.

“When Eddie McGuire realised he had done the wrong thing he resigned.

“Under the new leadership of Sam Mitchell, the Hawthorn Football Club is fiercely united on the field, but under the stale leadership of Jeff Kennett our Club is clearly divided off it.

“Hawks for Change will continue our campaign for greater diversity and democracy in the leadership of our Club.

“For the good of the mighty Hawthorn Football Club Jeff Kennett must go.”

Originally published as Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett breaks silence on Cyril Rioli’s bombshell claim

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