Richmond star Bachar Houli has escaped a healthy whack from the AFL’s match tribunal after citing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and The Project host Waleed Aly as character references.
Houli’s case was sent directly to the tribunal after he was charged with intentionally striking Carlton’s Jed Lamb in Sunday’s game.
Lamb was knocked out in the first quarter when collected by Houli’s swinging forearm. He took no further part of the match after being ruled out with concussion.
But after nearly two hours of deliberation, Houli got off lightly with a two-week suspension, as the tribunal took his character into account.
The AFL wanted four weeks.
The tribunal panel noted it was “rare” that they came across someone of such character, which Richmond’s counsel played on, quoting Houli’s “unique” reputation throughout the trial.
“I’ve never hit anyone in my life. Never at all,” Houli said in his defence.
“It’s something I’ve never, ever done in my life and I’ll never intend to do that in my life. It’s part of my practice in my religion – I’m a peaceful person. And I’ll continue to conduct myself in that manner.”
— AFL (@AFL) June 25, 2017
Houli, an AFL multicultural ambassador, is the mainspring behind the Bachar Houli Academy which promotes football programs in the Islamic community.
But it appeared to be Mr Turnbull and Aly’s remarks that held the most sway.
“It’s very hard to think of a better example of the strength and resilience of our great multicultural society than the work that Bachar Houli does,” Mr Turnbull said as part of his submission.
The federal government announced on Monday that it will provide $625,000 in funding to Houli’s academy. Mr Turnbull and Houli reportedly exchange regular text messages.
Aly, an ardent Tigers supporter, backed up Mr Turnbull’s sketch of Houli’s character and praised him as the spirit of “humility and gentleness”.
As “the first devout Muslim to play AFL”, Aly said, Houli “bears the burden of a community that is desperately short of heroes and role models”.
“He delivers some of the most powerful and constructive messages that any athlete in recent times has been seen to offer young minds.
“He does this in the face of racial abuse, which Aly has seen time and time again,” Richmond counsel said.
The suspension has ignited outrage among fans and former players alike.
Two weeks for Houli. Pathetic. It should not matter that he is such a "good character", that action deserved a longer holiday. #AFL
— Alex Fair (@AJFair85) June 27, 2017
This makes "intentional" call by tribunal irrelevant
Had Houli been "careless" by MRP, he would've received 2wks with guilty plea https://t.co/tfEngjyRIP
— Shane McInnes (@shanemcinnes) June 27, 2017
Former Hawthorn and Gold Coast Suns star Campbell Brown said on radio he was “gobsmacked” by the lenient suspension.
“I don’t care who the character references are. We all understand he is an outstanding citizen and has been a fair player,” he said.
“But the incident speaks for itself. I thought three to four weeks was appropriate. To get two weeks is quite staggering.
“The AFL goes along and pretends to talk about image for the game, and they’ll slap blokes hard when they need to.
“I think this is a case of preferential treatment. I’m not having a go at Houli, but gee whiz, they’ll be a lot of shocked people out there and rightfully so.”
Houli did not speak to the media after the hearing.