Inside the 'weird' and 'disrespectful' training camp that robbed Eddie Betts of his passion for football

Adelaide Crows apologise to former AFL star Eddie Betts following new book airing claims about preseason training camp

Former AFL champion Eddie Betts says his form slumped after he felt disrespected and traumatised at an Adelaide Crows preseason training trip, accusing the camp of cultural insensitivities.

Betts’s biography The Boy from Boomerang Crescent, which was released today, includes a chapter on the controversial 2018 Adelaide Crows’ preseason training camp following a devastating defeat to Richmond in the 2017 grand final.

In it, Betts describes the anxiety and anger he felt following the camp and the subsequent fallout.

AFL Players’ Association chief executive Paul Marsh said the association would contact all players who attended the 2018 camp to get a better understanding of issues that might have arisen.

In a statement, he said the association had previously spoken to players about the camp, but based on the detailed experience in Betts’s book, he now believed “players felt pressed into remaining silent”.

“The details outlined by Eddie Betts in his new book about the 2018 Adelaide Crows training camp are extremely concerning and difficult to read,” he said.

“We commend Eddie on the courage he’s shown in telling this story and are troubled by the ongoing hurt caused to Eddie and his family.”

In one example, Betts wrote how personal details he had confidentially shared with a camp counsellor were used to verbally abuse him in front of teammates during a physically and emotionally grueling “initiation”.

Among the insults yelled while he “crawled through the dirt” was that the father-of-five would be a “sh** father” as he was “raised by only his mother”.

Betts, who joined the Geelong coaching team following his retirement last year, described the incident as “traumatising” and had him “broken to tears”.

Eddie Betts returned to Carlton in 2020.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

The 350-game veteran said teammates were recruited to verbally abuse each other during the same exercise.

“I’ll live with this shame for the rest of my life,” he said.

Betts said players at the camp were prevented from showering, had to surrender their phones, and were transported blindfolded on a bus that “reeked of off food” with the Richmond theme song loudly playing on loop.

Betts details how First Nations rituals were misappropriated, which he found “extremely disrespectful”, and references to sacred Aboriginal words “were chucked around in a carefree manner”.

“When I started to talk to people around me about my experience, I started to realise that what we’d been put through was all just a bit f***** up, and I rightly became angry,” he said.

A man and a woman with five children gathered around them stand on a dirt path in front of a tree
Eddie Betts with his wife Anna and five children in Darwin in November 2021.(Instagram: @annascullie)

Betts said he raised his concerns with the club and asked to remove Aboriginal players from further “mind training exercises” with the company behind the camp, which continued to work with the Crows until later that year. The club “mutually agreed to part ways” with the company in June.

“Three weeks after I addressed the team about my concerns, I was told that I hadn’t been re-elected to the leadership group. I was devastated,” he wrote.

Crows chief executive Tim Silvers, who only joined the club last year, said he would investigate Betts’s claims that he had been dropped from the leadership group as a result of raising his concerns.

Silvers said he was “saddened” to read the impact the camp had had on Betts.

“It obviously hurt him in a number of ways,” he said.

Silvers described Betts as a “legend” who “lit up the Adelaide Oval for a long period of time”.

A man wearing a suit speaks to microphones in front of a blue and red banner
Adelaide Crows chief executive Tim Silvers apologised to Betts for his experience at the camp.(ABC News: Camron Slessor)

Silvers acknowledged the camp “probably wasn’t the right move at that time” and apologised to Betts and “any of our playing group who had a negative experience”.

“To have someone like Eddie, who has now left our club, to have a negative experience, saddens me,” he said.

Silvers said the club had new leadership and was moving “in a positive direction”.

Betts acknowledged in the book that a SafeWork SA enquiry had cleared the club of breaching any workplace safety laws, but he wrote: “My view remains that the activities there were inappropriate, counter-productive and culturally unsafe.”

books of eddie betts on bookshelf, with his face on the front cover
Eddie Betts’s biography, The Boy from Boomerang Crescent, reveals claims about the Crows’ preseason training camp.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

In a statement made in 2018, the Crows said SafeWork SA’s investigation “found neither the club nor any other person or organisation, breached any work health and safety laws during or in relation to the camp”.

SafeWork SA provided no more information about the investigation.

Crows player Rory Laird, who also attended the camp, described Betts as one of his “close mates” and a “loved figure” at the club.

“I think each individual had different experiences and I actually wasn’t on that part of the camp I guess, so I can’t really comment on the ins and outs of it,” he said.

“But obviously as a former teammate and a friend, you don’t like hearing about that.”

Betts, who moved to Carlton in 2020, wrote of the continuing toll the camp took, saying his “on-field form slumped” at the start of the following season and describing 2018 as “tough”.

“Personally, 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,” he wrote.

The ABC has contacted Collective Minds for comment.

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