Bachar Houli and Adam Saad have joined their AFL leaders in a touching show of solidarity following a federal senator’s hateful speech in parliament.
The Richmond premiership star and Essendon defender, two of the game’s leading practising Muslims, joined the coin toss – usually reserved for the captains – to send a message of unity and inclusion.
Houli and Saad hugged as they joined the Tigers’ Jack Riewoldt, who stood in for the injured Trent Cotchin, and Bombers skipper Dyson Heppell in the middle of the MCG.
The players made the stand with the backing of their clubs after Senator Fraser Anning this week called for an end to Muslim immigration.
He claimed a majority of Australian Muslims live on welfare and do not work.
“While all Muslims are not terrorists, certainly all terrorists these days are Muslims,” he said in his maiden speech.
“So why would anyone want to bring more of them here?”
Anning was criticised by politicians from all sides of the spectrum, with party leaders Malcolm Turnbull condemning “the racism, (which is) a shocking rejection of the Australian values” and Bill Shorten declaring it “racist … repugnant and disgraceful”.
The gesture by Houli and Saad continued their clubs’ partnership in celebrating football’s diversity.
Essendon and Richmond have played the Dreamtime at the ‘G fixture since 2005 to recognise Indigenous contributions to the AFL.
“Through our players, staff, partners, members and supporters, and by extension, we celebrate the diversity of our country,” the Tigers said in a statement on Thursday.
“Both clubs will take the opportunity presented by the AFL’s Friday night centre stage to stand alongside these young men and their community, and remind everyone that our great game and our country values people of all cultures and communities.”
Houli began his career with Essendon before switching to Richmond at the end of 2010.
“The Bombers and the Tigers are proud to celebrate diversity in football and the broader Australian community and wish to emphasise this on the big stage in light of recent comments made in Federal Parliament,” the club said.
“Essendon is proud to provide a safe, inclusive environment for people from all walks of life and looks forward to standing in solidarity through two of the league’s greatest role models.”
The Bombers need to defeat Richmond to remain in with a chance of reaching the finals for a second consecutive year.