The Bachar Houli Cup has kicked off for another year, fostering skills and character in the next generation of Muslim AFL players.
An annual event since 2012, the cup – named after devout Muslim and Richmond midfielder Bachar Houli – has attracted more than 5000 teens from Islamic-based schools to the sport.
Addressing a star struck crowd of kids from Melbourne’s Islamic schools on Wednesday, Houli relayed a message of peace and tolerance both on and off the field.
“A fist does not solve anything believe me,” he said.
“This fist has never been used and it’s got me where I am at the moment. The one who is patient is the true successful one, believe me boys.”
Houli said the event aimed to get young Muslims engaged with AFL, adding that once they’re interested, they’ll keep coming back.
“It’s like a magnet,” he said.
“Once you play once, twice, three, four times you feel attached to this game and that’s the great thing about Aussie Rules.”
AFL Diversity Manager Ali Fahour said providing positive role models for Muslim teens is important to counteract the negativity some associate with Islam.
Mr Fahour said young Muslims faced a number of challenges “with what’s going in the media”.
“But having role models like Bachar Houli and Adam Sard really gives these guys hope that there is opportunity,” he said.
“I think what those guys bring to these kids is so important.”
Mr Fahour said the annual competition also serves as a chance for the AFL to scout for some new talent, with a new group of Muslim teenagers to be recruited to the Bachar Houli academy in September.
“[Houli] is identifying 35 participants to be part of that academy where they fast track their development to hopefully become the next AFL players,” he said.
And while Al-Taqwa were the big winners in the Bachar Houli Cup, overcoming Ilim by a massive 75 point margin in the seniors grand final, Houli himself now returns to his own finals preparations.
The Tigers face North Melbourne in the first week of finals this Sunday and Richmond is aiming for its first finals win since 2001.