As the AFL’s most well-known devout Muslim, Bachar Houli has always been a role model.
But few would be aware of how direct his influence in the Muslim community has been.
Four years ago, the Richmond defender developed an AFL academy donning his name to support emerging junior players, aged between 15 and 17, from Islamic backgrounds.
The Bachar Houli Academy recently finished up 2015’s week-long program, which involves skill acquisition, high performance testing, game education, leadership development and a game against participants in the Multicultural Academy.
“These guys came up with three words; discipline, honesty and brotherhood. There are no better words.” – Bachar Houli
Houli, who recently finished in the top ten of the Tigers’ best and fairest award for the fifth consecutive season, told aflplayers.com.au the program aims to give 35 participants access to opportunities he didn’t have as a junior.
“I think the moment I moved to Richmond, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to not only get involved as an ambassador but provide something to the community that was lacking,” Houli said.
“I felt I lacked it as a young kid. We had no program to look forward to so I thought to myself, it’s a great opportunity to use my brand and the position I have in footy to help these boys come together, unite and create leadership.”
There are now three Islamic players in the AFL, with St Kilda’s Ahmed Saad and Gold Coast’s Adam Saad joining Houli in the elite ranks.
The Suns’ Adam Saad – who is also involved in the academy program – says Houli’s role model capabilities extend beyond the football field.
“Bachar has been unreal. The way he balances footy and religion has been second to none. Even this academy, with the amount of work that goes into it and how much the kids love it and learn from it, I think he’s been great a role model for not only myself but for the whole Muslim community,” Saad said.
Houli said the boys’ development by the end of the program shows the academy has been a success so far in its short lifespan.
“These guys came up with three words; discipline, honesty and brotherhood. There are no better words. These guys have represented this today, not only during the game but throughout the whole week.”