Ramadan and football: The odd couple?

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Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims, begins shortly. But how are sports professionals able to cope with a holy period that is by no means friendly to professional sports? But some Muslim clerics argue that playing football on an empty stomach is not necessarily in line with religious teachings.

Can one continue with professional sport whilst fasting? Better still, are religion and sport compatible? A priori, no. But the answers, of course, differ depending of which part of the barrier respondents find themselves.

Medical doctors are categorical. Without a shadow of doubt “Ramadan is totally incompatible with sport,” says Dr. Marcel Hoa, sports physician and biologist. “Without being hydrated or nourished, the body only has 40 minutes of reserve before dropping into a state of distress.”

Closer to home, coaches approach the fasting period with much apprehension. Nasser Sandzak, coach of Olympique Noisy-le-Sec in Paris, explains to Afrik-News.com that “Ramadan is a sensitive period, especially during the month of August when clubs are preparing to begin the season. It is a pivotal time where there are often loads of work.”

Risk of injury

Didier Deschamps, coach of Olympique Marseille, regretted the attitude of some players last year. “The Ramadan period is a concern for athletes,” he said. “Training causes the body to lose essential minerals and water. If the player can neither drink nor eat… it is certainly difficult to reconcile that with the practice of a high-level sport.

“It explains why players who practice Ramadan suffer from wounds during this period. I will not say it poses a problem but it is not easy to reconcile the two.”

Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Mosque of Lyon, talking to Afrik-News.com said that they “are making things easier. One must take part in Ramadan where possible. For Muslims, Ramadan is something personal. A direct relationship between the believer and his God. In the Quran, there are special cases: sick people or pregnant women, for example. It is their profession, and athletes should not put their lives danger.”

Special clause

Athough clubs are usually uncomfortable with the idea, they remain understanding. An example is AS Saint-Etienne who invited an imam (a Muslim religious leader) to explain the notion of Islam and Ramadan to the players, Muslim and non-Muslim alike..

“The goal was to make those who do not practice it understand what Ramadan is about, and also to make sure that the players who practice it do it correctly.”

The Imam said that the Quran provides a “special clause” for people in certain professions, and high level sports is among them. These people are allowed to catch up with their fasting on a latter date.

But things are not always rosy. FSV Frankfurt clashed with three players who were observing Ramadan. According to the German club, their contracts forbade them to fast without authorization.

In fact, it is by virtue of the Al-Azhar religious establishment that the question of Ramadan among Muslims plying their trade on foreign soil was settled. It indicated that players could break their fast if it endangered their lives or work.

All said and done, coaches want their players to drink, at least, on match days. And as Antoine Kombouare, Paris Saint Germain coach said last season: “I have a simple rule… During the week, there is no problem, I don’t mind. But on game days: it is forbidden.

“Those who decide to continue with Ramadan on game days stay home. I will not gamble with the health of players or make the game tougher for the other players. Without food the whole day, it gets complicated”.

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