The AFL has suggested its recent apology to Indigenous footballers, their families, and club staff over the handling of vaccinations in Queensland is a first step towards resolving the matter.

While NIT was told the AFL’s General Manager of Inclusion and Social Policy, Tanya Hosch, was not available for comment this week, an AFL spokesperson said on Friday that the League is continuing to work through the issue.

On July 18 the AFL issued the apology after Indigenous players were told they would need to get pneumococcal vaccinations ahead of their entry into Queensland.

The ten Victorian teams have agreed to base themselves in Queensland for up to ten weeks in order to keep the AFL season going safely, given the second wave of COVID-19 sweeping through Melbourne and the recent emergence of smaller outbreaks in Sydney.

It has been reported that club doctors were told that along with influenza vaccinations for all players, Indigenous players were requested by the Queensland Chief Medical Officer to also have a pneumococcal vaccination before travelling.

The AFL Players Association, which was not advised in advance of the move, criticised the AFL as Queensland’s health department said the injections are not an official travel requirement.

In a statement, the AFL said it “acknowledges it could have obtained and shared more information from the Queensland Government health authorities regarding the vaccination, including the underlying health safety benefits and that it can improve its processes in providing information to support club doctors in ensuring cultural safety in provision of health to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The AFL apologised for “any distress this has caused [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players] and their families”.

The League said it is committed to working closely with the AFL Players Association and “the players, our clubs and our doctors to resolve the situation”.

Players Association President Patrick Dangerfield said he was “disappointed” by the AFL’s handling of the vaccine.

“We were really disappointed and it’s as simple as that,” he told Nine’s Footy Classified.

“It’s something that we weren’t involved with and clearly the AFL has since acknowledged that … There should be a pretty clear structure in place in terms of how we educate players on the processes that are going forward, rather than miss the mark the way that we have … Things clearly need to change in terms of how it’s handled.”

Dangerfield followed up with comments on the racial vilification that Indigenous players have faced this year, and in recent times, particularly on social media. Eddie Betts, Liam Ryan and Harley Bennell have been among the players targeted by racists this season.

Dangerfield also urged his fellow players to participate in a cultural awareness program run by the AFLPA’s Indigenous and Multicultural Manager Leon Egan.

“It’s a really important part around how we educate our players, particularly our white Australians that just don’t understand, I certainly didn’t before I got into an AFL environment, the complexities that Indigenous Australians have grown up with,” he said.

“When I was in high school, [I was told] Captain Cook discovered Australia. We have a long way to go as a nation in terms of addressing our cultural heritage and making sure that sport in Australia is a really safe environment.

“It continues unfortunately to be a place where players are very often racially abused and it needs to stop.

“The ones that we hear about are the ones that we hear about. Clearly, there’s plenty else that goes on that isn’t always reported, so a lot more needs to be done and we all need to play a role within that.”

By Giovanni Torre