AFL club Western Bulldogs rocked by historical child sexual abuse scandal

Western Bulldogs chief executive Ameet Bains says the AFL club is “shocked and dismayed by revelations the club was the scene of horrific child sexual abuse for much of the 1980s.

Key points:

  • Club fundraiser and room steward Graeme Hobbs sexually abused boys at the Western Oval in the 1980s
  • Abuse survivor Adam Kneale says the club never contacted him after Hobbs’s criminal conviction in 1994
  • Bulldogs’ current chief executive, Ameet Bains, says the club is ‘dismayed’ by the revelations and they will reach out to Mr Kneale to offer help

On Sunday, an ABC Sport investigation revealed the story of Adam Kneale, a young football fan who was sexually abused in the club’s Western Oval administrative offices for seven years between 1984 and 1990.

Now 49, Mr Kneale detailed the harrowing legacy of his abuse, including the debilitating toll of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.

“We have been shocked and dismayed to learn about the terrible abuse suffered by Adam Kneale in the 1980s, the confronting details of which were set out in today’s ABC article,” Bains said.

“What Adam was subjected to as a child — and the impact it has subsequently had on the remainder of his life — is heartbreaking and distressing.

“Football clubs should be a safe and enjoyable place for all people, especially children, so Adam’s experiences and the fact that elements of this abuse occurred at the hands of a Footscray Football Club volunteer are simply devastating.”

Court documents, newspaper archives and club annual reports revealed that Mr Kneale’s abuser, the late Graeme Hobbs, filled a variety of roles at the Bulldogs — then known as Footscray Football Club — including chairman of fundraising and Under-19 team room steward.

Club annuals of the 1980s described Hobbs as the Footscray’s “jack of all trades”, and he was often affectionately identified by his nickname, ‘Chops’.

Hobbs used match tickets and season passes to groom young boys and then sexually abused them in the offices at the Western Oval.

He also photographed his victims and was later charged for possession of child pornography.

Police and legal sources have confirmed to ABC Sport that other boys were abused at the club.

“We applaud Adam’s courage to come forward and share the details of his story and we cannot begin to understand the trauma he and his family have been forced to deal with for more than three decades,” the Bulldogs statement continued.

“While these matters were investigated by Victoria Police and relevant authorities in the early 1990s, resulting in a number of charges being laid, a criminal conviction being sustained, and a subsequent jail sentence being served by the principal offender, we understand and acknowledge that the pain continues to this day for Adam.

“The club will seek advice from police and expert agencies to ensure Adam and anyone else who may come forward are appropriately supported.”

Mr Kneale said that, despite knowing about the crimes committed by his abuser since 1994, the Bulldogs had never sought to contact him nor offer assistance. The club’s president in 1994, Peter Gordon, is a cousin of Mr Kneale’s father.

In a written response to questions from ABC Sport, Mr Gordon said he had no recollection of Adam’s story and “no knowledge of any interaction the club may have had with Adam nor any offer of assistance”.

“Until this week, I was unaware my cousin, Charles Kneale, had a son named Adam, and I have no recollection of hearing of Adam or what you have described,” Mr Gordon said.

As Bulldogs’ current chief executive, Mr Bains said the club had now “communicated our wish to meet with Adam and his family to provide any direct support we possibly can, and to personally convey our sorrow over what he has endured”.

Dennis Galimberti — who was Bulldogs chief executive for a decade between 1986 and 1996 — said that Hobbs was exiled from the club in 1992, when his grooming of children came to the attention of Graeme Pearce, the club’s chief executive for six months of that year.

Author: Ivan Robinson