Ramadan fasting poses a holy challenge for Muslim footballers in the World Cup

Ramadan coinciding with FIFA World Cup puts Muslim footballers in a tough situation

Muslim footballers playing in the World Cup are forced to make a tough decision whether to hold the fast this year or to give up their holy custom in order to play in the World Cup.

During Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic calendar which runs from 28th June to 27th July this year, every adult Muslim is expected to refrain from taking in food or liquid during daylight hours. With the knockout rounds of the 2014 FIFA World Cup coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan, Muslim players are pushed into a deep dilemma whether to observe the month-long religious fast or not.

During the 2012 London Olympics which also coincided with the month of Ramadan, many Muslim athletes faced the same problem. But, most of them gave up their fast in order to maintain their performance level and they made it up by fasting in another month or by donating to charities. Also, this is the first time since 1986 that Ramadan has fallen during the FIFA World Cup.

Among the teams that have qualified for the last 16, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Algeria and Nigeria are the teams that have Muslim players who may or may not choose to observe the 30-day period of fasting.

Mesut Ozil decides not to fast

Some players do opt out of Ramadan fasting under the exemption that allows travellers and soldiers to forego their holy fast. One such player who has already decided that he will not fast is German midfielder Mesut Ozil. “I am working and I am going to continue doing so. So I’m not going to do Ramadan. It’s impossible for me to do it this year,” he explained.

However, many players are experienced in balancing the demands of their sport and their faith, as they have already been through similar situations while playing in the European leagues. Hence, French Coach Didier Deschamps is leaving it up to the players to decide whether to fast or not. “It's a very sensitive and delicate subject. There's nothing for me to dictate," he admitted.

Bacary Sagna, one of the Muslim players in France squad, has already said that he will not be fasting during the World Cup. Sagna said, “As a Muslim I know that there are certain rules that allow us to avoid it. Personally I’m not going to do it, everyone’s free to do as they will and I totally respect those that will do it.”

Algeria’s stance

Though Ramadan fasting is a matter of personal belief and decision, it becomes a bit more complicated when it comes to the opinions from religious scholars from the respective countries. For instance, though Algerians have qualified for the last 16 for the first time in their World Cup history, wide range of opinions are rising from the religious heads of Algeria as to whether or not the Algerian footballers can forego their fasting.

“It is not allowed for an Algerian player to avoid fasting just for a game – they must fast because God is with those who fast and young people can fast and play at the same time,” said Mohammed Mekerkab, the head of Algeria’s association of religious scholars. Dismissing the exemption for travellers and soldiers he said that this provision was only for voyages undertaken in the search for knowledge, health reasons or fighting jihad and not for playing mere football games.

But, Algeria’s government-appointed High Islamic Council has issued a different statement which is in favour of those players who want to delay their fast. Sheikh Mohammed Sherif Kaher, the head of the body’s commission for religious opinions, said that those players who are playing can abstain from fasting.

However, a majority of Algerian players said that they will fast despite having to face a formidable opponent – Germany in their round of 16 clash. The Algerian captain Madjid Bougherra has admitted that it will be a big challenge for all the Muslim players to fast and maintain their performance level simultaneously. He said, “Some players will postpone their fast for another time, but depending on my physical condition, I think I will do it.”

High risk of injury

For the players who decide to go on with their fast, the risk of getting injured rises considerably, especially due to the adverse conditions prevailing in Brazil. The fasting players will not only be devoid of food but also without water in the hot and humid climate of Brazil.

According to Hakim Chalabi, an ex-team physician, fasting can be risky for players as it will increase the possibility of injury because of dehydration. He also said that the players will have to rest as much as possible before the match so that the energy level remains to stand throughout 90 minutes without any fuel to the body.

Though this matter being a sensitive topic, it ends up ultimately as a personal decision that every individual player has to decide after weighing up their body’s capabilities and the rigorous demands of the sport.

Some of the top Muslim players taking part in the World Cup

Karim Benzema, Bacary Sagna, Mamadou Sakho and Moussa Sissoko (France); Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira (Germany); Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland); Mousa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini, and Adnan Januzaj (Belgium).

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