The Ball Toss Between Belief and Disbelief


Bachar Houli at home in prayer room.
Picture: David Geraghty Source: The Australian

Benjamin Hansen – @ben_hansen

The Australian Football Leagues multicultural ambassador and star Richmond player, Bachar Houli, has prompted soul-searching among league clubs after  protesting over the lack of prayer rooms at most stadiums.

The Tigers defender and part-time multicultural ambassador for the AFL, Houli, believed that the lack of multi-denomination prayer rooms opposes the AFL’s core value of including everyone in the sport.

The MCG, Etihad Stadium and ANZ Stadium have prayer rooms, but AFL chief Andrew Demetriou echoed the words of Houli, saying that all league stadiums across Australia should install the prayer rooms, calling it a demonstration of inclusiveness.

The claims by Mr. Houli and Mr. Demetriou have been expressed as a positive outcome in Islamic communities says Jasmine Ceni, an avid Geelong Cats supporter, who identifies as Muslim.

“I know many practising Muslims who do not attend sporting games due to the fact that it clashes with their prayer times,” said Miss Ceni. “Some [Muslims] must pray in cold, wet, and windy outdoor areas, which are not suitable.”

Miss Ceni believed that installing prayer rooms would help symbolise the idea that Australia is a multicultural and multifaith nation, but she did not think that the rooms would increase attendance, contradicting Mr. Houli’s views.

Opposing Mr. Demetriou and Mr. Houli, anti-theist, Geoff Duncan argued that no religion should receive special considerations in sport or everyday life.

“The importance to society of separating Church and State has been established for centuries; the separation of Church and sport and the rest of secular life is just as critical.”

Mr. Duncan said that if the AFL allowed prayer rooms to be built for Muslims, “One would expect the Australian indigenous people to demand similar concessions as an immediate result- then the Christians and whoever else can see a window to broadening their exposure.

“Building special purpose rooms is not the issue and neither is cost. This is a principle whereby certain members of the sporting society believe they must make concessions to Muslims based on religious ‘disadvantage’ at public football games.”

Miss Ceni disagreed: “The prayer rooms aren’t only for Muslims, they’re for all faiths.” And the installation of prayer rooms would benefit not only Muslims, but all faith groups.

More coverage: The Australian “Jeff Kennett decries prayer rooms at footy.”