The annual Bachar Houli Cup competition returns to Yeronga on Tuesday June 16.
This year’s competition will feature boy’s and girl’s teams from the Islamic College of Brisbane, Australian International Islamic College Gold Coast, Australian International College Durack, and Milperra State High School.
Bachar Houlis’ Islamic Sport program engages 30 colleges and 5000 students nationally and was internationally recognised by Beyond Sport Summit and was shortlisted from over 350 nominations.
Houli began playing football at age 11, developing his passion along the way, despite some concerns from his parents.
“They weren’t too happy about it initially, because my older brothers played local footy and came home with broken bones and a lot of injuries,” said Houli.
“They thought football was a way or a vehicle to drive their kids away from education, but as people know there should be a balance in life between sport and education.
“So it was quite hard initially but within two years my father understood the value of sport and what it means to them and to every individual.
“He supported me and followed my footsteps and I guess supported me as my biggest inspiration growing up.”
Supporting Carlton as a junior, Houli spent most wintery Saturday afternoons like many others, at the local football club watching his brothers, wanting to be out there on the ground with them.
“I guess the memories that come back to mind would be going to watch my brothers play local footy,” said Houli.
“Having to watch them on a weekly basis locally, [and] spending the whole Saturday afternoon watching the older boys play.
“In terms of AFL… growing up as a kid I was very, very passionate.
“My older brother was a Carlton supporter at the time, and we kind of had no choice but to follow Carlton.”
As a proud member of the Muslim community, the Richmond star has faced some challenges along the way to becoming an elite AFL footballer, none more so than becoming comfortable with himself and his beliefs.
“It was really tough because you come up with excuses, so you end up lying to yourself,” said Houli.
“So, obviously being Muslim, growing up I had to pray five times a day, fasting.
“When it came to food, it had to be Halal, that was basically the limitations, or I guess the hiccups I had growing up, and I didn’t know how to deal with them, but that will probably be every young teenagers battle going through but today’s society people understand and will accommodate for whatever culture you believe in, for whatever religion you come from.
“That all changed when I was 16, that was a turning point for me and I guess the best change, the best move I ever made.”
While he believes the AFL has always been accommodating, Houli believes the league come a long since his debut, thanks in part to the self-named, Bachar Houli Cup.
“The point for my programs, the cup and the academy, people are more aware of what you do, and I guess the passion that individuals have,” he said.
“Initially it was more so, studying at an Islamic school, we didn’t participate in many interschool sports, if any.
“Since the time I left school to the time I started the program, all the Islamic schools have been very proactive as of their activities and their interschool’s program.
“As I was growing up it was lacking, but to their credit they’ve jumped on board, not only my program, but the other programs moving forward, and I guess realised the importance of good education and a good healthy lifestyle.”
His work as an Australia Post Multicultural Ambassador has provided support programs to young Muslim boys and girls, and Houli hopes his work inspires more people to get involved in AFL.
“I’m passionate about giving back to my community, but being able to give back to the broader community is something I’m really passionate about, seeing young kids getting involved in the game who I guess have had very, very limited knowledge about the game and just giving it a go,” said Houli.
“That puts a big smile on my face, [watching] kids go out there, playing and having fun.
“Our country is very diverse, and will continue to become more diverse as the years go by.
“We have to find ways and solutions to get young kids involved in football, and to their credit they are adopting it, and that’s what is making me tick every day, seeing the smiles on the young kids growing up.”
With the Bachar Houli cup and academy receiving more attention nationally, Houli has some words of wisdom for kids all interested in playing footy.
“Just get involved, because AFL is such a multicultural game today and it accepts people from all different backgrounds, regardless of what you believe in, or what colour or culture you come from, it’s so, so inclusive,” he said.
“We keep harping on it; many cultures, one game. That is the game today, it is very welcoming of all people.”
The Bachar Houli cup will be held at the AFL Queensland Training and Administration Centre, Cansdale Street, Yeronga.
By Byron Parish