MELBOURNE : The Australian Football League players’ union will contact Adelaide Crows players over a 2018 pre-season camp that left their former forward Eddie Betts feeling traumatised by bizarre and confrontational mind-training exercises.
Adelaide’s four-day camp on the Gold Coast was designed to build mental strength for a team humiliated by Richmond in the previous year’s championship-deciding “Grand Final”.
Four years on, Betts revealed in his autobiography, “The Boy from Boomerang Crescent” that verbal abuse and psychological intimidation by camp instructors had damaged his mental health.
Lifting the lid on the camp, which was run by an external leadership consultancy, Betts said players were blindfolded on their bus to the site which had the Richmond club song playing continuously on loop.
Their mobile phones were confiscated on arrival by black-clad instructors, who laid out camp rules including a ban on bathing.
“We had to stay sweaty and smell ‘manly’. We also had to keep what they described as ‘noble silence’,” Betts wrote.
Betts said private information that he had shared with organisers prior to the camp had been hurled back at him as abuse by camp instructors in an “initiation” session.
“Another camp-dude jumped on my back and started to berate me about my mother, something so deeply personal that I was absolutely shattered to hear it come out of his mouth,” he added.
Betts, one of the game’s greatest Indigenous Australian players, also felt uncomfortable that Aboriginal rituals were co-opted during the camp, including the inappropriate use of a “talking stick”.
Betts said players were split into groups and told not to tell team mates in other groups what they had been doing.
The camp left Betts drained. He said he began having “weird, unsettling dreams”.
He and his wife raised concerns with the club, and Betts said he sought permission from the players group to have Aboriginal team mates excused from future mind-training exercises.
Betts said he was dropped from the Crows’ leadership group three weeks later.
In the build-up to the 2018 season the Crows had been rated a major threat to win the championship but crashed to 12th in the 18-team league, missing the playoffs.
Betts, who kicked 640 goals in 350 AFL games, had his least prolific season at the Crows in 2018 and left the club the following year to finish his career at Melbourne-based Carlton.
The AFL investigated the camp in 2018, concluding there were “failings” in how Adelaide had run its pre-season programme but no “violation of industry rules”.
Late on Wednesday, the AFL issued a statement saying the league acknowledged “the hurt Eddie Betts, his family, his community, and by extension all Indigenous players experienced” as a result of the camp.
Adelaide CEO Tim Silvers apologised to Betts “and anyone else that had a negative experience throughout the camp”.
AFL Players Association boss Paul Marsh said his union would contact all Adelaide players from 2018 about the camp.
“We … are troubled by the ongoing hurt caused to Eddie and his family,” Marsh said.
“What we now believe is clear … is that players felt pressured into remaining silent.”