By Bilal Ali

Abdullah Haddad is a Diversity Coordinator at AFL Queensland (AFLQ) and has been a participant in the Bachar Houli Foundation (BHF) Employment Program since 2017.

Haddad was first employed by the Gold Coast Suns after graduating from high-school, having previously earned some experience as a Development Officer and School-Based Trainee at AFLQ Darling Downs.

“The BHF Employment Program in conjunction with AFL SportsReady created a 12-month full-time traineeship role hosted within an elite football club environment,” Haddad said.

“The traineeship provided invaluable exposure to the operations of an elite football club; it allowed me to learn on the job through a funded certificate course, as well as lay a foundation to secure ongoing, full-time employment post-certificate completion.

Haddad was stood down from the Suns during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, but he landed on his feet with a job at AFLQ.

“COVID-19 caused numerous challenges across all industries, but particularly in the AFL due to the temporary suspension of the 2020 season,” Haddad said.

“The ongoing uncertainty of job security was always present, however, the AFL was proactive in their communication to employees and gave welcomed reassurance to their staff.

“Having the confidence to know that the AFL had prioritised retaining its people proved to me that the industry was more than just a game; it is a family that is willing to endure tough times together and present a united front.

“With misfortune comes opportunity, and I was fortunate enough to secure a role with AFL Queensland as Diversity Coordinator; a job in which I pinch myself every day and I can now look back at the journey with great admiration and appreciation.”

Haddad believes the BHF Employment Program is crucial in creating a more diverse working environment in the AFL and in creating that pathway for the future generations of Muslims.

“The Program provides opportunities for people of an Islamic background to pursue their passion of working in football; a chance that may not have arisen without the support of the AFL,” he said.

“Having increased Muslim representation within the industry demonstrates that our all-encompassing game provides opportunities for anyone and everyone to share in the culture and history of our great game.

“While we deepen our footprint within the AFL community, our role is to inspire the next generation to know that there are countless possibilities for people from all walks of life within the AFL industry.”

Haddad has also found that the AFL and its clubs have gained an increased understanding of Muslims in the workplace with the rise in Muslim employees in the industry; a rise that has been attributed to the BHF Employment Program.

“The AFL is proactive in providing resources and education to clubs to help broaden the understanding of working alongside people of Islamic background, as well as people of other cultures,” Haddad said.

“This gives organisations the confidence to appropriately work with people of diverse backgrounds and empowers multicultural employees to work knowing that they are respected and valued.”

Bachar Houli, the founder of the Employment Program, has seen the program change the lives of some of its participants.

“The Employment Program is one of the programs that I am most passionate about because I genuinely believe that it empowers young people and drives self-belief,” Houli said.

“It gives hope to the next generation that Muslim people can work in sport and the AFL.

“Going into AFL House or Richmond and seeing these young people working in the office makes me so proud that we have been able to help a young person reach his or her career goals.

“When I started in the AFL there were two or three Muslim employees across the whole AFL industry and now we have over 30 staff members across the league.

“To have 80% of participants transition to full-time employment or further study demonstrates that sometimes these young people are just looking for an opportunity. I have no doubt these young people will become role models for the broader community.”

Houli is also aware of the role that the AFL plays in helping implement the program, and he hopes the Foundation can return the favour in the form of education.

“I believe that a key focus of the program is providing education to employers and helping to remove any subconcious biases they may have,” Houli said.

“This program wouldn’t be possible without the support of the AFL,  the State Leagues and the clubs who have embraced the program and passionately driven positions to host trainees.”