The AFL has today released a series of recommendations following a review into the required vaccination protocol for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players entering Queensland as part of the AFL’s Return to play Protocols.

The AFL reiterates its apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and staff and their families for distress caused by our handling of the Government requests for pneumococcal vaccinations ahead of entering Queensland to play earlier in the year.

The AFL’s actions and communications, including its instruction to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and staff and their families to receive the vaccination, failed to sufficiently consider or ensure adherence with cultural safety principles. 

The AFL should have also better investigated the initial request from the Queensland Government (including as to whether it had a necessary medical basis) and considered the potential impact of its actions on the group of Indigenous players and their families. After ongoing discussions with the AFLPA and feedback from the players’ Indigenous Advisory Board we accept and understand that these failures were not acceptable and caused distress for a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and their families. 

The AFL acknowledges and apologises for the mistakes it made in the handling of this matter and the manner in which it dealt with and communicated the request from the Queensland Department of Health.

The AFL remains committed to learning from our mistakes, to addressing any ongoing concerns of those adversely affected and to working more closely with the AFLPA, players, our clubs and our doctors to ensure that all players are treated equally, respectfully and with prior informed consent prioritised.

“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.”

In order to ensure this does not happen with any future medical directives, specifically involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, the AFL will introduce a number of recommendations from the review: 
Bespoke cultural awareness and safety training program

The AFL will 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. 

The AFL agrees to facilitate that training program to AFL medical and mental health staff, AFLDA members and AFL Executive as soon as practicable. 

Extend mental health clinical governance to incorporate all medical governance

AFL will extend the mental health clinical governance framework to incorporate all medical governance. 

The clinical governance group will include senior personnel who are sufficiently experienced to analyse health information and have the authority to advise the AFL in terms of policy and procedural changes. 

The group will have representatives from all relevant stakeholders and departments, including representation from the AFLDA, and must have representation by a senior staff member of the AFLPA. The group must have a member who is a Senior Aboriginal Medical advisor to the AFL, to ensure cultural safety of all health policy and implementation. The AFL to consult with AFLPA prior to the appointment of this advisor

Establish incident reporting system

AFL will design a simple incident reporting system so anyone can confidentially report a medical, health or mental health issue to the clinical governance group and the information is kept private. AFL will encourage reporting of adverse events and near misses to assist in identifying policy and training gaps for safety. 

Establish culture of clinical excellence

AFL will establish a culture of clinical excellence, with learning review and evaluation culture. 

AFL will roll out training in incident reporting for all health practitioners in the AFL system to reinforce the concept that incidents rarely have one cause but are almost always multifactorial. All institutional and systemic issues will be addressed in this training. The training will reinforce that everyone understands that safety is the business of the whole industry.

Consultation in respect of matters affecting Indigenous players

AFL will consult with AFLPA (which will in turn consult with the Indigenous Advisory Board) on any and all matters which may have a greater or different impact on Indigenous players than it would the rest of the playing group and to not impose any request or requirement solely on indigenous players without AFLPA approval.

The AFL will ensure that the AFL Executive General Manager Inclusion & Social Policy will have oversight of cultural safety, in partnership with all other relevant parties and practice leaders in the AFL. 

The AFL’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council will support the AFL in overseeing the implementation of the recommendations.

AFL responsibility for ongoing issues

The AFL will take complete responsibility for any ongoing issues related to the vaccinations, including any issues faced by players or families caused or connected to the request for pneumococcal vaccinations. This may include medical costs or treatment or, where if there are any last side effects, a remedy to address such ongoing pain and suffering.