Brisbane Lions stand behind senior coach Chris Fagan amid Hawthorn inquiry

<span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Chris Fagan, senior coach of the Brisbane Lions, has been defended by the club as he takes a leave of absence to cooperate with an AFL investigation into allegations of serious mistreatment of First Nations former players at Hawthorn Football Club.

The AFL chief executive, Gillon McLachlan, announced on Wednesday that an external independent panel would investigate “challenging, harrowing and disturbing” allegations detailed in a Hawks-commissioned review.

Related: Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan stand aside to cooperate with Hawthorn investigation

The review, which has not been publicly released, contained allegations that the club had separated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players from their families and pressured one couple to terminate a pregnancy.

The incidents allegedly took place when Alastair Clarkson – North Melbourne’s incoming head coach – was head coach at Hawthorn. Fagan was head of coaching and development for the Hawks between 2008 and mid-2013, and general manager of the club between mid-2013 and 2016.

“We stand by Chris as he commits himself to be part of the AFL investigation, which gives him procedural fairness, into allegations concerning historical events at the Hawthorn Football Club, where he was a former employee,” said Brisbane Lions chairperson, Andrew Wellington, in a statement on Sunday. “Chris has categorically denied any wrongdoing.”

“Since Chris Fagan arrived at the Brisbane Lions in October 2016, he has been more than just our head coach. He has been a role model, a mentor, and a father figure,” Wellington said. “In all of my dealings with Chris over the past six years, he has always made the welfare of our players and staff an utmost priority.”

“Chris has been a great supporter of all of our players and their families and has worked hard to ensure our club provides a culturally safe environment for everyone … we strongly support his right to a fair, impartial, and independent investigative process.”

The author of the Hawthorn-commissioned review, the consultant and former Richmond player Phil Egan, described the findings as “like a nightmare”. The review came about after former First Nations Hawks star Cyril Rioli went public in April about alleged racist treatment at the club.

Egan has called for an audit of all clubs. The AFL Players’ Association has also backed a club-by-club review, saying the league clearly “has an issue with the treatment of First Nations and multicultural players”.

North Melbourne has delayed the start of Alastair Clarkson’s tenure as head coach of the club “to allow time to fully participate in the investigation.”