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Andrew Thorburn (AFL Facebook)

AFL clubs that promote themselves as inclusive need to “do the work” to ensure different views on race, religious freedom and sexuality can be raised, even if it makes some people uncomfortable, according to a new report. Source: The Age.

The report was commissioned as part of former NAB boss Andrew Thorburn’s settlement with Essendon. Mr Thorburn’s stint as CEO of the Bombers may have lasted just one day, but the report’s author, Dr Matthew Beard of the Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership, hopes the controversy will help sports organisations and clubs deal with “the inclusion dilemma”.

The report – Changing the Game: Rethinking Sport’s Inclusion Dilemma – was funded by the Bombers but did not investigate the Thorburn case, in which he relinquished the CEO role after it emerged that the church he chaired had decade-old sermons on its website that espoused controversial views on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Dr Beard said the goal was to give sport organisations the tools to confront difficult but increasingly common questions such as the one raised in Mr Thorburn’s case, or Israel Folau’s battle with Rugby Australia, or Usman Khawaja’s recent challenge to the International Cricket Council rules over his request to use a bat emblazoned with a dove and olive branch with regard to the Middle East conflict.

Dr Beard said this did not mean sport should be a free-for-all, but that it should promote a culture in which people with seemingly intractable differences could co-exist.

“Every organisation will need to identify their limits. What are their basic moral values and commitments around which we [can] … accept that there is also tension, so long as we are aligned on those things?” Dr Beard said.

In December 2022, Essendon announced a settlement with Mr Thorburn, apologising to him and donating an undisclosed amount to the ethics institute.


Thorburn report revealed: Clubs urged to adopt inclusion road map, avoid ‘toxic’ culture wars (By Peter Ryan, The Age)


CEO’s exit ‘sends chilling message to faith believers’ (CathNews)

AFL club CEO stands down over Christian beliefs (CathNews)