Australian Rules' chief executive said Wednesday it was "hard to find more serious allegations" after a top club was accused of separating Indigenous players from their families and pressuring one couple to have an abortion.
In the latest racially tinged scandal to hit Australia's most popular spectator sport, Hawthorn Football Club said an internal investigation into how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players were treated had raised "disturbing" historical claims.
The club did not go into detail, saying the matters were "confidential".
But public broadcaster ABC reported harrowing accounts of young Indigenous players pressured to end contact with their families and focus on their sporting careers.
The ABC said in a period about a decade ago, players were relocated away from family and pressed to change their mobile phone numbers.
One allegation related to a prospective father who told the club he and his partner were expecting a child and was advised to terminate the pregnancy.
"At face value it's hard to find more serious allegations," Australian Football League (AFL) chief Gillon McLachlan said.
"There are so many people hurting today and have been hurting for a long time. As a game we will do everything to ensure the hurt you experienced is not a hurt experienced by others."
McLachlan said an external panel of four independent, appropriately qualified people would conduct a separate investigation for the AFL.
"We need to run a proper investigation to get to the bottom of it and this is important out of respect for those making the allegations and out of respect for those being accused," he said.
Hawthorn, the 13-time premiership-winning side -- with the Latin motto translated as "let us be judged by our acts" -- are based in Melbourne.
Allegations of separating Indigenous players from their families and forced estrangement are particularly sensitive in Australia.
Until the 1970s, white-dominated Australian governments forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their parents in an attempt to eradicate Indigenous cultures.
Indigenous AFL legend and former "Australian of the Year" Adam Goodes retired in 2015 after being subjected to months of racially motivated booing by spectators.
In 2021, the president of top Australian Rules side Collingwood resigned after evidence of systemic racism at the club.
Hawthorn chief Justin Reeve backed the AFL's independent investigation, calling the findings of their internal review "heartbreaking".
Asked whether Hawthorn had a culture problem, Reeve replied: "I think Australia has a culture problem, historically, and I think like all of us, we focus on every day being better and building a great environment for our club.
"I feel confident from the report as well that currently our players feel culturally safe," he added.
"But like so many institutions, I think we have to face our history and our past and we have to act responsibly and we have to cooperate and move forward from that."