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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

The University of South Australia’s Center for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding and the Australia Day Council have created an award to honor those who contribute to multicultural understanding, social harmony and community cohesion. Richmond defender Bachar Houli was recently named as the inaugural winner of the Award for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding. The award recognizes Houli's work in the community to increase understanding of the Muslim religion, strengthening cultural awareness and social inclusion.

Houli, the first devout Muslim to play AFL and one of the AFL's multicultural ambassadors, has become a leading influence and role model for young Australian Muslims. It was his suggestion that prayer rooms be set up at AFL grounds so more Muslims could attend games and still observe their religious obligations. Both the MCG and Etihad have prayer rooms. AFL National Community Engagement Manager Jason Mifsud said the award was a credit to Houli's commitment to increasing cultural awareness and that he was a great community leader. Houli works with Islamic communities to develop young football talent while at the same time working to bridge the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. He recently launched the Bachar Houli Cup, a footy competition involving Islamic schools across Victoria. He has also established an academy in his name to not only develop football talent but also give an insight into the inner sanctum of AFL clubs and to help create greater religious and cultural understanding.

Houli, whose parents are Lebanese, said he was honored to receive an award which recognizes his work with multicultural communities, saying “I believe I have a responsibility towards fellow Muslims and fellow Australians to bring people closer to each other.”

Houli’s football career began when he was just 11 years old and joined the Spotswood in the Western Region Football League. He was drafted by Essendon in 2006 and played four games in his debut season. He played a total of 26 games for the Bombers before being delisted at the end of 2010. Richmond snapped him up in the 2011 preseason draft and he has now played a total of 70 career games.

Source: Amy Hattam, AFL Media Release, AFL Record Season Guide

Former Eagle star Ben Cousins will be pulling on the boots for a few games in 2013. He has agreed to play for the Mullewa Saints in Western Australia's Great Northern Football League. Mullewa is is located 450km north of Perth (280 miles). Club president Brett Del Nero said Cousins has agreed to play at least two games, but the club is hoping to have Cousins in a few more. Del Nero said the club had taken Cousins' family and community commitments into consideration. He added that it had not been difficult into talking him into playing again.

Cousins, 34, played 238 games for the Eagles before being sacked by the club in 2007 after his drug addiction was revealed. He went through a rehab program and returned to football in 2009, playing a further 32 games for Richmond before retiring at the end of 2010. Still dealing with the after-effects of that addiction, Cousins spent some time earlier this year in an institution for treatment for prolonged psychosis related to his battle with drugs.

Cousins' impending arrival at the club already has the players inspired to improve. Cousins will not only play but will assist at training alongside another former Eagle Travis Gaspar. The duo has previously conducted clinics in local schools and will also run life coaching seminars for the players.

Cousins has generously offered to donate his match payments to the club's academy.


Article last changed on Friday, February 01, 2013 - 8:32 PM EST

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