We live in a world full of underrated people.
Good people doing great things in all walks of life, who give without any thought of reward are too often casually ignored in favour of the doom and gloom we are exposed to each night on the evening news.
Bachar Houli is without question, an underrated human being.
Understated yet confident, reserved but engaging, Houli approaches life in the same manner he approaches his football – with class and aplomb.
George Harrison, the famous Beatle, once said. “Never pass up an opportunity to tell someone how good you think they really are.”
So I’m going to break precedent today and do just exactly that.
Bachar Houli is a pioneer and a leader in many facets of life.
He is the first practising Muslim footballer in the AFL. He has broken new ground in his role as an AFL Multicultural Ambassador and provided incredible opportunities that may otherwise not exist for emerging young footballers from Islamic background via the Bachar Houli Academy.
He has done all of this of course, simultaneously whilst trying to get a kick throughout his ultra-consistent 170-game playing career in the AFL with Richmond and Essendon.
What people may not be aware of however, is how instrumental Bachar Houli has been in helping create an AFL education and training model at the Trade Institute of Victoria, which has been a resounding success since TIV developed a flexible training program specifically designed to cater for AFL clubs.
“Several years ago I had a good friend at TIV who spoke to Jasmine and Reif (TIV owners) who thought it a good idea to get a local Ambassador on board who knew the local community well and could assist in building the profile of the business,” Houli says.
“The relationship with TIV started to build really well so I thought it would be a good idea to open it up to the boys at the footy club,” he adds.
That decision proved to be a mark of brilliance, as nine of Houli’s Tiger teammates have now graduated in TIV’s Certificate III in Carpentry and Certificate IV in Building and Construction courses respectively.
“I knew a few of the boys were interested in doing a Melbourne based building course and Dimma (Richmond coach Damian Hardwick) has always been big on players doing something productive away from the football field on our days off,” Houli says.
“The boys absolutely loved it.”
“They are a really good group of blokes, and were in great hands with Bill (TIV Carpentry Manager) and the entire team at TIV,” he adds.
Such leadership, and the ability to bring people together for the common cause is certainly not restricted to TIV or his beloved Tigers, however.
Houli has made significant progress as an AFL Multicultural Ambassador and has been simply outstanding in creating and implementing a particularly effective and streamlined program for talented Islamic footballers through the Bachar Houli Academy.
“The sole purpose (of the Academy) is essentially to get kids off the street, playing footy, getting them involved in leadership programs and giving them every possible tool to achieve the highest they can in life,” Houli says.
“There are a lot of things we focus on at the academy – and it’s certainly not just football. It’s leadership. It’s inclusion. It’s identity,” he adds with authority.
They are impressive words from with a man with outstanding foresight, and as the conversation unfolds it becomes acutely clear that Bachar Houli is a highly intelligent man whose philosophy in life revolves around social inclusion and breaking down the barriers of cultural ignorance and racial discrimination.
He may play on a football field that is restricted by boundaries, but quite rightly there should be no boundary when it comes to social acceptance and cultural inclusion, according to Bachar Houli.
He is generations ahead of his time in this regard, and should be acknowledged and praised for tackling such volatile and sensitive issues, and making significant inroads and advances in the process.
“There is no reason why it (social/cultural/racial acceptance) shouldn’t improve,” Houli says.
“Things have improved considerably, not only within the AFL but as a broader community also, but we still have a long way to go,” he adds.
His words are as profound as they are sincere.
“Whether you like it or not we live in a multicultural society here in Australia, and the sooner we embrace that as a collective the better off we will be as a Nation.”
As much progress as Bachar Houli has made off the field, he is quick to re-direct his focus and energy to the ensuing AFL season and more specifically, the Tigers’ Premiership defence in 2018.
“Expect significant improvement from the entire playing group again in 2018,” Houli says with a determination that I don’t dare question.
“To win a flag (2017) was obviously a dream come true, and something we will have forever as a collective, but the hunger to improve is burning even stronger now than this time last year.” he adds.
“We’re going to have a really solid pre-season and want to put ourselves in the best possible position to prepare as a club for the year ahead.”
If the professionalism and attitude of Bachar Houli and his TIV teammates are any indication, you can expect even bigger things out of Punt Road in 2018, and there isn’t a group of blokes in footy who deserve it more.