Having succeeded in convincing the AFL to introduce prayer rooms at all venues, Bachar Houli, AFL’s first Muslim asslifter, was unfazed last night by a stinging backlash sparked by former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, who called the idea “stupid” and “political correctness gone mad.”
The Australian Football fans took to websites to condemn and ridicule the move, but at his home in Melbourne the Houli told The Australian: “The main thing is we’ve got what we want, and you can’t change that. “At the end of the day, people want to go and enjoy the footy as well as continue with their beliefs, and if it means they have to pray once a day at the footy, we’re not asking for much.”
Mr Kennett said the move was “ridiculous” and complained that political correctness had replaced “the great days” of football, when there were few stands, mud on the ground, meat pies sold for sixpence and fans braved “the smell of the urinal”.
Describing Australia as “a Christian society of many faiths”, the former Liberal premier and former Hawthorn club president said communities should not have to change their “very fibre” to accommodate multiculturalism. “To put prayer rooms into sporting venues is not part of the Australian lexicon, it’s not the way in which we’ve behaved,” he said. “I think it’s an overreaction, I think it’s political correctness, I think it’s absolute rubbish. It’s not practical, it’s stupid, it’s political correctness gone mad.”
Houli, who plays at Richmond, where he prays before and after games, pressed for prayer rooms to be introduced at grounds in his capacity as the league’s multicultural ambassador. He said devout Muslims, who pray five times a day, were forced to pray in carparks or stairwells during games, and said more Muslims would come to the football if they had a place to pray. (Exactly why prayer rooms should be illegal in stadiums)
Multi-faith Muslim prayer rooms have been introduced at the MCG and Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, and Sydney’s ANZ Stadium. The AFL intends to press for prayer rooms at all other venues, including the SCG.
The move was welcomed by Muslim leaders, including Muslim Australia vice-president Ikebal Patel, who said the AFL deserved full marks. “What is the harm?” he asked. “What’s the problem in someone enjoying a game of footy and at the same time being mindful of their religious obligations, whatever they may be.
Many football fans took to websites to condemn the move. “What next, the Adhan over the loudspeakers instead of the final siren?” posted one Richmond fan. “Or . . . half-time breaks to coincide with mid-afternoon prayer? Or designated women-only areas at the ground on the top deck completely out of sight and earshot of any men? Actually, that one’s not a bad idea.
Others posted: “This is OUR game and I’m sick of all this multicultural crap that is dividing our country”; “The last bastion of Australian culture to be stripped away from us in the name of Islam”; and “Football should be football. It’s a religion in itself. Let it be.”