Ramadan poses challenge for Muslim players at World Cup
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The World Cup is set to become a whole lot more complicated this weekend for many of the Muslim players still in competition, with Ramadan – a month-long period of fasting – beginning Saturday night.
Dozens of Muslim players on teams such as France, Germany and Algeria will be faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to observe the holy month as the tournament enters the knockout stage.
Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, is meant to be a time of increased spiritual reflection and prayer. Muslims are obligated to give up all food and liquids from dawn until dusk, rising early to eat before the start of the day, and then breaking the fast after sunset. This often means changing the body’s schedule.
Yet for Muslim players competing at the World Cup, the physical demands imposed by the holiday could put them at a disadvantage. Not only do they need food for fuel, but the humidity and heat in Brazil make it all the more important to stay hydrated.
Some players may opt to forgo fasting under a tenet that exempts travelers – as well as those who are sick or pregnant – from observing Ramadan. Mesut Özil, who plays midfield for Germany, has already decided that he will not be observing.
“I am working and I am going to continue doing so. So I’m not going to do Ramadan,” he explained. “It’s impossible for me to do it this year.”
Not everyone, however, shares Özil’s point of view. The majority of Algeria’s players have already planned to fast, despite the dangers it could pose to their health.
The issue can be a tricky one for coaches to navigate, according Claude Leroy, who once managed both Senegal and Ghana at the international level.
“It seems very complicated to strictly respect Ramadan during the World Cup,” said Leroy, who currently coaches Oman’s national team, which did not qualify for this year’s tournament. “What do you do during matches that take place at 1 p.m. or 5 p.m., especially for hydration? It’s impossible and even dangerous”.
France coach Didier Deschamps, however, said he has left it up to his players to make up their own mind.
“It’s a very sensitive and delicate subject. There’s nothing for me to dictate," he said. "We respect everyone’s religion. Today is not the first time we’re discovering this situation. I am not in the least bit worried and everyone will adapt to the situation”.
As Deschamps pointed out, it is far from the first time in recent years that Ramadan has fallen during a major international competition, and, as a precaution, many Muslim athletes have sought medical advice to make sure they are in the best shape possible.
Hakim Chalabi, a former doctor for French club Paris Saint-Germain, has worked with many fasting football players in the past, and has become FIFA’s expert on the matter.
“It’s a time when the risk of injury increases, particularly at the lumbar, joint and muscle level,” he said. These injuries are mostly due to dehydration, rather than lack of food.
“The level of nutrition needs to change. The quality of food must also be modified in order to adapt to the exercise. Players must better hydrated. What’s more, we advise them to take longer naps during the afternoon to recover some of what they’ve lost in sleep,” Chalabi added.
Madjid Bougherra, a veteran player and captain of Algeria’s national team, has followed these guidelines to a T for the past many years. Despite that, he said everything depends on his physical well-being.
“The hardest is staying hydrated. But it’s okay, the weather is good. Some players postpone [Ramadan]. Personally, I’m going to see what my physical state is, but I think I can do it,” Bougherra said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)