Following gentle, yet effective lobbying from Richmond Football Club’s Bachar Houli, the MCC Melbourne Cricket Club, commissioned Desypher in 2020 to design the MCG Multifaith Prayer Room, which after a Covid interruption, was completed before the football season opener of 2022.
The MCC embraced the premise that the ‘people’s ground” is surely meant to cater for all peoples. And in the case of people of faith, especially those who were required to perform prayer within the duration of a sporting or other event, the torment of whether to attend at the expense of prayers has now been removed.
A shout-out to the Bachar Houli Foundation and indeed the MCC for hearing the concern and acting upon it. But, why was it a tough call?
It was in 2012 that Jeff Kennett publicly slammed the idea of prayer rooms at AFL venues. It came after Houli said the requirement for Muslims to pray five times a day was stopping many from attending AFL games. He said many people were forced to pray in carparks or stairwells at AFL grounds.
Kennett’s response was, well, very Kennett;
"To put prayer rooms into sporting venues is not part of the Australian lexicon. I think it is an over-reaction"
"It's not practical, it's stupid, it's political correctness gone mad."
He said the move would ruin the culture of football and create unnecessary change.
"In the old days when you went to a football ground, there were very few stands, there was mud on the ground - that was real football," he said.
Oddly enough, after that outburst the AFL, didnt talk about it much - publicly anyway. Perhaps they did fear a backlash from agitated fans who would feel that football would somehow be affected by more people of faith attending games.
I have always been interested to know what it is that defines the “Australian Lexicon”? I thought it was about the uniqueness of Australian slang, but it seems some people regard it as being about holding fast onto something that cannot change with time. Is it assimilation? Is it preserving a pre-migration, very white, very Anglo Saxon and very colonised Australia? The MCC doesn’t think so. It has acknowledged that the Australian Lexicon is something that should evolve.
It is indeed fortunate that in this case, a decorated player who headlines the AFL’s multicultural push, someone who is revered and could not be ignored, raised the need for a facility for all faiths – not just those of Muslim faith. After all, respectful inclusion and diversity cannot be the exclusive realm of some and not others – they are by definition non-exclusive.
So I put it to Mr Kennet, the game’s culture has not been ruined, the idea is not stupid, it is extremely practical, and an imbalance has been corrected. With the Commonwealth Games in Victoria (2026) and Olympic Games in Brisbane (2032) imminent, I can only encourage other stadia around Australia to follow MCC’s magnanimous example.