• Richmond Tigers Bachar Houli, left, started the academy for young Muslims in 2012. (SBS World News)
Despite the frenzy ahead of Saturday's grand final, Bachar Houli never fails in his commitment to a cause close to his heart - an academy aimed at young Muslims.
26 Sep - 6:56 PM  UPDATED 27 Sep - 6:52 AM

The Bachar Houli Academy launched in 2012 is a week-long program which provides pathways for young Muslim men across the country aspiring to play AFL football.

This year's group is made up some of Victoria's most promising exponents of the game, and according to former St Kilda player Ahmed Saad,  the 15-to-18-year-olds are at a pivotal time in their lives.

"I think that's when they start going to the cross-roads - alcohol, drugs, going out a bit too much... the kind of stuff you don't want your kids to get involved in," Saad told SBS World News.

"Sport creates a camaraderie, relationships... commitment and discipline as well."

In addition to providing a unique football development opportunity, the Bachar Houli academy teaches participants about their religion, culture and off-field leadership.

Adam Kaddour, whose parents are Lebanese-Muslims, said the program provided him with some timely advice.

"Coming into the academy I did have a few questions into my own identity and myself as a Muslim - I've been able to speak with them one-on-one and find out more about my religion."

For Sudanese-born 17-year old Amar Elnour, it provided a more practical - but equally important - skill.

"Coming to the Academy I was a really quiet person, I wouldn't be able to get up in front of groups and talk, but Ahmed and Bachar have egged me on [encouraged me], and pushed me to take a leadership role in the group, so now I've got confidence to talk in front of large groups."

For the aspiring athletes who participate in the academy, physical training is also crucial.

Activities can involve early morning beach runs, football skills sessions and sprints.

In the AFL's biggest week, their highlight was undoubtedly enjoying a barbecue cooked by none other than Lebanese-born Bachar Houli.

A key component of Richmond's flag-effort this Saturday, the defender couldn't be happier sharing his big week with academy hopefuls.

"When you see the older boys that have been involved for two or three years, they come back as true leaders and they're actually leading the charge, so when you see that sort of leadership it makes you proud to see the program's actually working," Houli told SBS World News.

And Amour Elnour says he speaks for all Houli Academy participants when he describes what a Richmond win would mean. 

"I'm an Essendon supporter but definitely this week I'll be barracking for Richmond and Bachar - especially Bachar, he's done a lot for me and it would be great to see him achieve something so big as to win the AFL Grand Final."

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