Tanya Hosch, Michael Long, and Gillon McLachlan ahead of the 2019 Sir Doug Nicholls Round. Picture: AFL Photos

The AFL has today released an update to its Rule 35 vilification rule and a series of recommendations to ensure a more inclusive environment for the wider game, following an extensive review into the operation of the rule and its impact across elite and community football.

The rule, the first in Australian sport to address vilification, was introduced (as Rule 30) in 1995 in the aftermath of Essendon player Michael Long experiencing racial abuse during the drawn Anzac Day game.

Originally designed to combat on-field abuse relating to race, colour and religion, the rule was amended in 2013 to incorporate vilification relating to disability, appearance and sexuality. Rule 35 applies to both the AFL and AFLW competitions as well as being adopted by community leagues around the country.

On the recommendation of Michael Long, Rule 35 will now be known as the Peek Rule to recognise and honour the work of long-term AFL administrator Tony Peek who worked closely with the League's indigenous players to understand the impact of vilification in the code and develop a rule to combat vilification.

Everyone in our game from players on the ground to supporters in the stands have a role to play in ensuring football at every level provides an inclusive environment

- Tanya Hosch

The review, which has been endorsed by the AFL Commission, was chaired by AFL Executive General Manager Inclusion and Social Policy Tanya Hosch and received 44 submissions, including responses from all 18 clubs as well as interviews with players, community clubs, academics, diversity practitioners and media stakeholders.

The review examined key issues including complaint handling & sanctions, leadership, operation of the rule across AFL, AFLW and community competitions, as well as vilification through the use of social media and the subject of accreditation and training across elite and community football.

As a result of the review, the rule in section 35.1 of Prohibited Conduct will be updated to read:

No person subject to the Rules and Regulations shall act towards or speak to any other person in a manner, or engage in any other conduct which threatens, disparages, vilifies or insults another person ("the person vilified") on any basis, including but not limited to, a person's race, religion, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity.

The AFL Commission has also approved the following immediate changes to the Peek Rule;

Deadline to report gameday incidents extended from the present two days to two weeks.

Despite time limits indicated, the AFL to have the discretion to investigate any incident regardless of timeframe. This has been introduced to accommodate delayed trauma that a person may experience from such an incident, to give the person time to seek the advice they may require and/or for the incident to be investigated before a report is made.

Reporting can now be undertaken by match day officials, umpires, office bearers, coaches and players and not just the vilified player.

A register of incidents will be established across each state and territory to ensure any breaches of the rule are fed into a national recording system.

AFL Executive General Manager Tanya Hosch said the Review found there needed to be greater consistency in the application of the rule across the football industry and greater education needed across all levels of football about the obligations for players, clubs and leagues, as well as greater awareness and clarity around the processes and sanctions that are applicable.

Ms Hosch said the Review panel found that more protection was needed for complainants, particularly at second tier/community level where resources were limited.

Ms Hosch said the Review also found there was a need for standardising of education and developing a register of AFL approved educators/practitioners was necessary to provide consistent understanding and an industry benchmark specific to education.

The Review also determined there was a need for greater education for media and broadcasters as well as an opportunity to promote greater accountability in football coverage and broadcasting of the game.

The need for broader industry understanding of the various types of vilification and the language used on game day and motifs/emojis used on social media was also needed.

Ms Hosch said:

"The AFL's original Racial and Religious Vilification Policy was an Australian first, and perhaps a first in world sport. It sent a very strong message that our game wanted to stand up against racism, and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players had protection and rights on the ground," Ms. Hosch said.

"Without question, our code benefits from the contributions of the increasing diversity of participants in our game whether it is players, staff, coaches, umpires, administrators, broadcasters, governance leaders, corporate partners and fans.

"While the rule has worked on the ground, the review shows that we need to continue to ensure that we continue to get better in every aspect of our game and ensure that everyone across our game is aware of the impact of vilification and what they need to do to contribute to an inclusive and respectful environment.

"Everyone in our game from players on the ground to supporters in the stands have a role to play in ensuring football at every level provides an inclusive environment. We know we need to get better."

Ms Hosch said social media abuse was also a focus of the review.

"In recent times, with the rising use of social media in Australia, our code has experienced and continues to experience attacks on players and their families in all manner of ways. We must ensure we have the right professional support for those abused and the ability to put the right accountabilities in place for people who misuse those platforms to vilify our players.

"Building upon our partnership with the Australian E-Safety Commissioner will also enable us to be more proactive in the ways we support all involved in our code to play it safe online," Ms Hosch said.

AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan said the AFL was continuing to try and do better in addressing discrimination and vilification in the game in all its forms, and the Review Panel had provided a number of recommendations to drive significant improvements across all levels of the game.  He said while some changes would be acted upon immediately, other recommendations would take time and the support of all parts of the industry to implement.

"The more often we have the discussion about inclusion, the more we learn and the more we understand that we need to continue to drive change in our environment so that everyone can belong and succeed in our industry, both on and off the field," Mr McLachlan said.

"We have done a lot to make football a game for everyone but we also know from recent history that whatever we may have done in the past, we always need to do more in the future. The AFL Commission is committed to ensuring we continue to improve.

Key Recommendations from the review

1. Education Programs

Development and improvement of educational resources used in the AFL and AFLW competitions to better inform players, clubs, officials, members and the public regarding Rule 35.

Offer accredited training to coaching, medical, football department, umpiring, broadcast, integrity staff as well as any member of governing bodies at all levels of the competition and player agents/managers.

Further options will also cover the use of high profile players to promote key information around the rule, possible incentives for undertaking training programs for those within the game, specific education for officials at community level, education and ambassador programs across clubs, presentations to new draftees into the AFL and AFLW competitions and the use of past players who worked within the role to explain its significance.

2. Media and Broadcast

Social Media

In partnership with the E-Safety Commissioner, develop and execute strategic promotion of their community educational tools to enhance awareness of impact of on-line discrimination, and implementing a training program covering the impact of on-line abuse. The game would explore opportunities to work formally with key digital platforms to address harmful material posted on-line, while working with key groups within clubs to emphasise their responsibilities.

Broadcasting and Print Media

Develop and implement opt-in education and training to members of the media, develop the approach for dealing with any breach of standards and to work with broadcasters and media outlets to identify where the balance of representation and inclusion in promotion of AFL and AFLW will be further improved.

3. Sanction Models and Consistency of Application

Improve the understanding of the process of reporting and investigation of incidents under Rule 35, and its importance as the standard for the game and all those affiliated with it (including those persons not subject to the AFL Rules).

 Engage more with Community football with the goal of reducing incidents and increasing reporting.

Require and increase inclusion and diverse representation on boards, tribunals and decision-making bodies at all leagues under the jurisdiction of the AFL.

Expand advice and guidance for clubs and leagues in dealing with incidents, , overhaul the mediation process at community level to improve outcomes and improved support of all parties involved in any process.

4. Second Tier & Community Football:

Undertake a deeper investigation and consultation of needs dealing with all forms of vilification at these levels, including assessing current processes, developing an ambassador program around standards at community football and supply of greater resources for community leagues and competitions to develop their responses regarding vilification in all its forms

5. Mental Health and Wellbeing

Develop and promote professional and peer support services to be offered to all parties impacted at the elite level and beyond while also developing materials that expand the understanding of all forms of vilification (i.e. abuse, trolling, casual racism/sexism etc) and the impacts upon health and wellbeing upon those subjected to vilification

6. Maintenance and Reporting

Provide an evaluation checklist of relevant measures to inform continuous improvement, report annually to the AFL Commission on key outcomes (Elite AFL/AFLW, second tier and community) and create an identity for Rule 35 by naming it the Peek Rule (as recommended by Michael Long).

The Rule 35 committee consisted of:

Tanya Hosch - General Manager - Inclusion and Social Policy, AFL
Steve Hocking - General Manager - Football Operations, AFL
Andrew Dillon - General Counsel/General Manager Game Development, AFL
Ro Allen – Victorian Commissioner for Gender & Sexuality
Bachar Houli - Current Player, Richmond Football Club
John Cranwell - CEO, Inclusive Sport SA
Paul Briggs - Executive Director, Kaiela Institute
Tony Keane - Head of Integrity and Security, AFL