The AFL’s former diversity manager, Ali Fahour, has avoided conviction for punching a player unconscious during an onfield melee at a suburban football game.
The 34-year-old was sentenced to a two-year community corrections order and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine after pleading guilty to recklessly causing injury.
Mr Fahour was playing in the Northern Football League for West Preston-Lakes last July when he hit an opposition player during the third quarter.
The court heard Whittlesea player Dale Saddington was knocked to the ground and momentarily rendered unconscious.
He later left the field suffering from blurred vision.
Mr Fahour resigned from his position at the AFL in the week following the incident and apologised for his actions publicly, as well as sending Mr Saddington an apologetic text message on the night of the game.
Mr Fahour took the stand during his plea hearing at the Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court to apologise again to Mr Saddington and his wife.
“It’s a football field, you go to play football, not to be punched,” he said.
“I look at his family now and I apologise again, hopefully one day they’ll accept it.”
The court was told Mr Fahour hasn’t been able to secure a job in the sporting industry since the incident.
The punch was caught on camera and played to the court today.
‘A very serious mistake’
Defence barrister Dermot Dann QC told the hearing Mr Fahour was going to the aid of his best friend who was being held in a headlock when he struck Mr Saddington.
But he said Mr Fahour recognised he’d made a very serious mistake and was “full of shame and regret and remorse”.
Ali Fahour (right) leaves court in October after pleading guilty to recklessly causing injury. (ABC News: Karen Percy)
“But I seek to put that very bad mistake in the context of this man’s wider life and demonstrate that he is a man that’s made an outstanding contribution to the community,” he told the court.
Numerous character references were tendered, including from former Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams, as well as comments made by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a public event in June last year commending Mr Fahour on his community work.
Others attested to his community work with young people from the Islamic, African and Aboriginal communities.
Magistrate Carolyn Burnside said the on-field incident sat “uncomfortably” with what she described as an exceptional body of material attesting to his fine character.
“If this was a king hit situation where alcohol had played a role and somebody was walking along outside the pub, the implications of those actions would be quite different,” she said.
“Increasingly players need to know where the line needs to be drawn.”
Mr Fahour will have to complete 200 hours of community service as part of his community corrections order and his $5,000 fine will be donated to Disability Sports Australia.
The court was told the punch had ended Mr Saddington’s professional football career and that he hadn’t been able to play in a game since.
Police prosecutor leading senior constable Andrew Williams described the incident as a coward punch and called for a term of immediate imprisonment.
“The player was looking the other way and didn’t see it coming and had no opportunity to defend himself,” he said.
‘Harrowing time for victim’: magistrate
Mr Saddington and his wife attended today’s court hearing but didn’t comment on the sentence.
After reading their victim impact statements in chambers, Magistrate Carolyn Burnside said it was clear they’d suffered a lot.
“This has been a truly harrowing time for you and your family so I completely recognise that,” she said.
The court heard Mr Fahour has attended counselling since the incident.
The Northern Football League last year suspended Mr Fahour for 14 weeks for striking.
It led to him being banned from playing or officiating for life as he’d accumulated more than 16 weeks of suspensions in his playing career.
Mr Fahour is able to apply to be re-registered once he’s served another 12 months on top of the suspension period.
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