Several Adelaide Crows players have reportedly expressed interest in pursuing a class action against the AFL and their former club over the fallout from the infamous 2018 pre-season camp, which has received renewed focus this week.
Eddie Betts this week became the first Crows player, past or present, to fully lift the lid on the infamous Adelaide 2018 pre-season camp — part of Betts’ autobiography, The Boy from Boomerang Crescent, involved Betts revealing his anger, humiliation and shame at how the camp was handled.
“I was put into a situation that was psychologically and culturally unsafe. I’ll live with this shame for the rest of my life,” Betts wrote.
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The Age reported on Thursday night that Greg Griffin, an Adelaide lawyer, had been in contact with former players over the past 24 hours and for some time beforehand.
“The recent days have not diminished interest from a range of players,” Griffin said.
“I’ve spoken to a number of players over the past 24 hours. I think the release of Eddie’s book has intensified the feelings that players who attended the camp had.”
In response to Betts, AFL chief Gillon McLachlan on Thursday night apologised to Betts.
“Clearly we’re sorry to Eddie and anyone who’s (been) caused suffering from that camp,” McLachlan told Channel 7.
“We’ve seen how much it hurt Eddie and frankly some of the stuff that went on was a disgrace.
“Clearly, we’re hearing him, hear his pain and we’re sorry.”
In his account, Betts published several claims and details from before, during and after camp.
— An exercise during the 2017 season saw Adelaide players form a circle, make eye contact with each other and yell out obscenities. The goal was to emphasise the players’ masculinity, according to Betts.
— At the camp, after being split into three groups, players in Betts’ groups were blindfolded, loaded onto a bus with papered-over windows and driven to an undisclosed location. During the bus trip, Richmond’s theme song was played on loop.
— Upon arriving at the new location, burly men dressed in black explained camp rules. Betts said: “Things like, we weren’t allowed to shower … we had to stay sweaty and smell ‘manly’. We also had to keep what they described as ‘noble silence’.”
— There was an “initiation process”. Betts said he was put into a body harness with a rope being held by teammates attached to him. He was told to fight his way towards a knife to cut himself free. Camp instructors hurled verbal abuse at him — and the content of that abuse derived from confidential information Betts had given prior to the camp in a private counselling session. Betts wrote: “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.” Betts claimed the instructor said he would be “a s**t father as I was raised only by a mother”.
— Betts said sensitive Aboriginal cultural rituals were misappropriated. He wrote: “The camp ended up appropriating a First Nations peoples’ ritual of a ‘talking stick’ and attempting to apply it to all of us, even the non-Indigenous players and coaches. In my view, the talking stick was used incorrectly, and I was not aware that any Elder had given permission for it to be used either.”
— At camp’s end, players were told any issues affecting them were only to be shared with other group members. Betts said there was a role-playing exercise to practice how they’d discuss the camp with their partners. A suggested response, Betts claimed, was: “I feel like a better father and husband, having come from this camp.” That statement used by some senior Crows players to describe the camp in the media months later.
— Upon returning to the club, Betts voiced his concerns about the camp to the Crows playing group. He sought permission to remove the Indigenous Crows players from any further interactions with the “leadership specialists” and their mind-training exercises. He was dropped from the club’s leadership group three weeks later.
— The camp’s fallout began to have a negative impact on Betts at home, with his wife Anna noticing he was “starting to get snappy at the kids”.
— Betts said the camp impacted his on-field performance in 2018 and left him questioning his playing future. He said he felt like he’d “lost the drive to play footy, and to be honest, I’m not sure I ever had the same energy I did before that camp”.
Betts’ revelations this week confirm several reports to emerge from the camp over the past four years.
This is a detailed timeline of how we got there.
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Early 2017: Adelaide engages with Collective Mind to deliver a ‘mindset performance program’ for the 2017 season. Senior players feature in a video on Collective Mind’s website with high praise for the program. The Crows would then sign a two-year deal with the mind training company.
September 2017: After finishing the home and away season on top of the ladder and comprehensively winning two finals – in which they show off a pre-game ‘power stance’ – the Crows are thumped by Richmond in the Grand Final, losing by 48 points at the MCG. The Crows then ask Collective Mind to develop a plan for a pre-season training camp to launch their 2018 season.
Late January-early February 2018: Crows players travel to the Gold Coast for a camp to focus on strengthening the “resilience” and “connection” of the team. As the brief was outside Collective Mind’s “core IP”, the company went to market and engaged “specialists” to help deliver the program.
March 23, 2018: The late Danny Frawley, on AFL Nation, hints at a “quite unique” Crows pre-season event, were “blindfolded” while in a bus. Adelaide chief executive Andrew Fagan doesn’t reveal specifics about the camp, but says: “There were elements of the camp where we deliberately threw a little bit of confusion into it.”
March 26, 2018: Foxfooty.com.au and On The Couch exclusively reveal more details of the camp, which left several senior Adelaide footballers shaken and frustrated after it turned sour. One source describes it as “cult-like”, with players asked not to talk about the specifics of the emotional hardships they endured. While not all players found the Queensland experience distressing, some particularly from ‘Group 1’ are still “not in a good headspace”.
March 27, 2018: The Crows respond to Fox Footy’s report, labelling it greatly inflammatory and in parts widely inaccurate. However they only release a short statement, which read: “We have been exploring this space (mental strength) for a couple of years and in the world of sport the power of the mind is now put up there with physical conditioning in terms of elite performance.” Taylor Walker tells Triple M the Gold Coast training camp was one of the most “beneficial and rewarding” things he’s done and would recommend it to his closest friends and family. Rory Sloane also tells Adelaide radio: “I absolutely 100 per cent came back from that camp feeling like a better husband, a better son and a much better teammate than when I was before I left on that camp.”
March 28, 2018: Then-Adelaide coach Don Pyke denies claims his playing group is fractured over the pre-season mindfulness camp. He says it brought his players a “sense of togetherness” and rubbishes reports some were distressed and complained to the AFL Players’ Association, adding: “I’m not going to apologise for us trying to get better.”
March 29, 2018: More details around the camp emerge, with Crows players repeatedly played the Richmond theme song. A text message sent by Taylor Walker to Adelaide teammates is also leaked to the media, which in part reads: “Boys, there’s some rumblings around the camp. Don’t talk to anyone, let’s discuss it in the morning. Disappointing Tex.”
June 23, 2018: As the losses begin to bank up and more reports around the camp emerge, Adelaide cuts ties with Collective Mind. Then-football boss Brett Burton and Don Pyke front the media, with Burton declaring it was a “mutual decision” between the club and company, adding: “We had some good impact with the program last year but this year, it hasn‘t gone the way we wanted it too, that’s from both parties.” Pyke labels the camp a “fail”, saying some of the sessions “didn’t hit the mark and didn’t resonate with the players”. Burton confirms one Indigenous player was offended by the use of an artefact referred to as a talking stick and references to rites of passage during the camp. But Burton also declares: “That is categoric — there are no lingering issues with our playing group and with our staff from that camp. That’s all our fans need to know … we’ve got a playing group that is happy.” It’s suggested Burton and Pyke’s press conference left more questions than answers.
August 25, 2018: The Crows finish 12th on the ladder and miss finals after a 12-10 season, which includes a 2-6 run between Round’s 8 and 16. They were wracked by injuries throughout their campaign.
August 27, 2018: Collective Mind holds a press briefing in Melbourne to address what it describes as “salacious claims” about the camp. They deny players were left scarred by the experience and deflect blame for the Crows’ dreadful AFL season. Company director Amon Woulfe hits back at Don Pyke’s description of the camp as a “fail”, saying every aspect had been signed off at the highest level of the club and all players had received psychological clearance from the club doctor. Woulfe says: “We feel that the camp was great … we delivered on the brief that was given to us by the Crows. If there was anything that happened on the camp that was not OK, the club would have addressed it straight away back in February. If half of what has been said and speculated about was true, we would have been fired in an instant.”
August 29, 2018: Mitch McGovern requests a trade away from Adelaide, despite being contracted for a further two years, and eventually joins Carlton. On the same day, assistant coaches Tate Kaesler and Josh Francou depart the Crows, with Kaesler joining the Suns immediately and Francou joining him at the same club two months later.
October 25, 2018: An investigation by the AFL Integrity Unit finds there was no breach of industry rules at the Crows’ camp, although the league recommends “improved oversight when engaging external providers and further investment in the club’s integrity area”. The club also endorses the recommendations put forward by the AFL, with Crows chief executive officer Andrew Fagan saying the findings were in line with internal reviews.
January 21, 2019: Taylor Walker and Rory Sloane are appointed co-captains after Walker led the team solo for four seasons.
August 30, 2019: Hawthorn great Jason Dunstall and Fremantle champion Matthew Pavlich are appointed to an external panel to review all elements of Adelaide Football Club following a second straight year missing the finals. They are joined by high performance expert Tim Gabbett and leadership and performance expert Jonah Oliver, with Andrew Fagan to support the panel as requested by the Hawks goalkicking legend.
September 4, 2019: Taylor Walker steps down as Crows co-captain after five years in the role. He says he wants to focus on enjoying his footy and spending time with his family.
September 12, 2019: Don Pyke steps down as Adelaide senior coach – despite having the best winning percentage of any coach in Crows history (60.75%) and despite being contracted until 2021 – claiming the club wouldn’t progress if he remains at the club as he was “part of the problem”. Club chairman Rob Chapman insists Pyke’s resignation is “completely separate” to external and internal reviews, saying there would be “no termination payment”.
October 7, 2019: After crossing to Brisbane, former Crows midfielder Cam Ellis-Yolmen speaks openly about the camp, saying it divided the playing group and stopped them playing up to the level of the 2017 Grand Final side. Ellis-Yolmen says he “wasn’t a fan of the way” the camp was run.
October 11, 2019: The external review panel’s recommendations are given to the Adelaide board and are unanimously endorsed. Head of football Brett Burton and senior assistant coach Scott Camporeale are both sacked, while a head of leadership and culture role will be created. Chief executive Andrew Fagan survives.
October 13, 2019: Adelaide chairman Rob Chapman, who’s been a Crows board member since 2007, sets a deadline on his tenure, confirming he’ll stand down after the 2020 season.
October 15, 2019: Foxfooty.com.au reveals Matthew Nicks will be Adelaide’s coach for the 2020 season and beyond. The Giants assistant beats fellow highly-regarded assistant Adem Yze for the role.
October 16, 2019: The AFL trade period ends and Adelaide’s list is hit hard, with Eddie Betts (Carlton), Sam Jacobs (GWS Giants), Hugh Greenwood (Gold Coast Suns), Cam Ellis-Yolmen (Brisbane Lions), Alex Keath (Western Bulldogs) and Josh Jenkins (Geelong Cats) joining rival clubs. The rebuild begins.
December 15, 2019: The Crows unveil SANFL general manager of football Adam Kelly as the club’s new footy ops boss.
March 4, 2020: Eddie Betts admits Adelaide’s failed pre-season camp in 2018 played a part in his departure from the club, telling SEN Breakfast: “There’s a lot of things that went on and a lot of unhappy players.” Ex-Crow Andrew Jarman then took aim at Betts for reopening old wounds, telling Triple M: “Why can’t Eddie Betts just let it go? He’s come out and he’s blamed the camp for one of the reasons why he left the Adelaide Crows … Don’t blame the camp. Some of the intel I’ve received about the camp, he was probably one of one a few players who engaged and loved the camp – he actually really enjoyed those four days. It’s two years ago, please let it go.”
June 2, 2020: Crows legend and dual Norm Smith Medallist Andrew McLeod delivers a scathing message to his former club, declaring it isn’t a “place you feel welcomed”.
June 17, 2020: Crows legend and football director Mark Ricciuto sensationally unpacks why eight star players left the club from 2015 to 2019. The manager of both Mitch McGovern and Charlie Cameron takes issue with Ricciuto’s assessment that both left the club for money. Colin Young tells The Age: “The reasons Mitch left the Crows was because of the camp and the Adelaide football department and that‘s it.”
July 4, 2020: The most explosive and detailed media report about the 2018 camp is revealed in The Sunday Age, with six players speaking on the condition of anonymity. The report, compiled by Sam McClure, details several measures taken on the camp. There are claims players were tied with ropes while teammates hurled abuse. Some sledges it’s claimed are intensely personal. It’s reported some players felt betrayed after personal secrets of childhood trauma were divulged to the club. Collective Mind months later would deny many of the claims.
July 7, 2020: Then-SA Premier Steven Marshall labels the details in The Age report about the Crows camp as “quite disturbing” and leaves the door open for a possible SafeWork SA investigation.
July 16, 2020: The Herald Sun reports further troubling accusations of players being pushed to breaking point at the camp. One insider tells the publication they can recall some players were told the playing group needed to form a bond “so tight that if a teammate slept with your wife it would be OK”.
August 23, 2020: Adelaide slumps to 0-13, going down to Geelong by 28 points at Adelaide Oval. However it’s Adelaide’s best performance of 2020 to date.
September 12, 2020: Collective Mind initiates legal action for defamation against The Age, Sam McClure, the Nine Network and Caroline Wilson for their coverage of the camp. A company statement reads: “Despite the clarity that was created back in 2018, there have been ongoing rumours, mistruths and speculation that is not only incorrect, but damaging to our reputation.” Collective Mind directors also conduct a Q&A with The Advertiser addressing reports.
September 19, 2020: Adelaide finishes the Covid-interrupted 2020 season on the bottom of the AFL ladder with a 3-14 record. It’s the club’s first wooden spoon in its 20-year history.
November 12, 2020: The rebuild continues as the trade period ends. More senior Crows leave, with Rory Atkins (Gold Coast), Brad Crouch (St Kilda) and Kyle Hartigan (Hawthorn) leaving. Bryce Gibbs had already retired despite being contracted for another season.
December 1, 2020: Bryce Gibbs opens up on the club’s infamous training camp, declaring it a “disaster” and suggesting it split the playing group. He tells the Greats With Garby podcast: “It certainly hurt the group probably more so than I thought it did at the time looking back. I think the playing group lost a bit of trust with the footy department. Obviously a lot of details we weren’t allowed to know going into the camp, we all had to sign waivers just to say we can’t speak about it after.”
December 7, 2020: SafeWork SA confirms a “comprehensive” investigation is underway into the Crows’ controversial pre-season camp, despite the club not being sanctioned at the time by either the AFL or the AFL Players’ Association.
January 28, 2021: Adelaide chief executive Andrew Fagan resigns just days before his club’s first AFLW game and less than two months before Round 1 of the AFL season. He intends to remain in the role to assist in a transition process.
March 2, 2021: Long-time Hawthorn administrator Tim Silvers is appointed Adelaide’s new chief executive.
August 22, 2021: Adelaide finishes its 2021 campaign 15th on the ladder with a 7-15 record.
September 28, 2021: The Crows and Collective Mind are cleared by SafeWork SA of any wrongdoing in relation to the 2018 camp. The investigation, which took more than a year to complete, found neither the club nor any other person or organisation breached any work health and safety laws during or in relation to the camp. Collective Mind managing director Amon Woulfe says SafeWork SA’s ruling was “welcome, yet overdue, relief”.
February 4, 2022: The Nine Network and two football journalists apologise, issue retractions and agree to pay all legal costs to Collective Mind and its two directors for content published relating to the Adelaide Crows’ pre-season training camp. Nine agrees to retract 13 publications, including two video interviews published between 2018 and 2021. In a statement, Collective Mind say Nine, Sam McClure and Caroline Wilson, following lengthy legal discussions, acknowledged the camp was “run in good faith and with the players’ interests front of mind”. Consequently, the Melbourne Press Club board unanimously votes to have McClure’s Quill award for his July 2020 article on the Crows camp “annulled”.
August 2, 2022: Eddie Betts becomes the first player to publicly reveal details about the 2018 camp via a first-hand account. An excerpt from Betts’ new autobiography, ‘The Boy from Boomerang Crescent’, is released, with the triple All-Australian dubbing the camp “weird” and “completely disrespectful”. Betts writes that private details shared in a counselling session during the camp were misused, while also claiming the camp misappropriated sensitive Aboriginal cultural rituals. He confirms the Richmond theme song was played repeatedly during a training session, while at one stage he was put into a body harness with a rope attached and told to fight his way towards a knife to cut himself free, while camp instructors peppered him with verbal abuse. Betts writes: “I felt like I‘d lost the drive to play footy, and to be honest, I’m not sure I ever had the same energy I did before that camp.”
August 3, 2022: Amid wide condemnation, Crows football director chief executive Tim Silvers personally reaches out to Betts to apologise. Adelaide football director Mark Ricciuto says it was “sad” to read Betts’ explosive account, but hopes he’s “getting over” the event as the club has “made a lot of ground” since. The AFL doubles down on its 2018 investigation that found failings in the Crows‘ processes regarding the camp, but “ultimately determined there was no violation of industry rules”. SafeWork SA says allegations raised by Betts were “considered” in its own investigation, but again stresses there was “no breach of the Work, Health and Safety Act”. But AFL Players’ Association chief executive Paul Marsh indicates his union will effectively reopen its investigation into the pre-season event and contact all players involved to seek a “better understanding” of what occurred during the trip. Marsh says he’s concerned by several factors, including the “lack of psychological safety”, as well as the misuse of both Indigenous artefacts and confidential player information. The players’ boss says his organisation fears some Crows players were “pressured into remaining silent” about the ordeal – a statement Betts confirms during a confronting interview on Fox Footy’s AFL 360.