Balancing football and faith

2010-08-28 00:00

OVER the last few years, the subject of Ramadan has become an increasingly hot topic in football circles. Opinions are especially divided in Europe, where doubts have been raised as to whether fasting players can endure the rigours of intensive training sessions and an unrelenting fixture calendar.

The issue shows no signs of going away and has come in for renewed media scrutiny this year; so can professional footballers realistically respect Ramadan just as their club sides are returning to action?

Fifa.com shone the spotlight on a number of players who have managed to taste sporting success while observing the fast.

Although respecting Ramadan involves going without food and water for a large part of the day, Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute believes his performances have never suffered.

“It’s always difficult to fast here in the south of Spain, where it’s very hot, but I manage to adapt,” said the Malian international, who scored against Osasuna during Ramadan last year. “I give everything I have to the club during this month. I make sure I don’t let my team-mates and the supporters down. Everyone here treats me well. They understand.”

Those sentiments were echoed by another Malian plying his trade in the Spanish Liga, Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra. “All the coaches have respected my decision,” he explained. “It’s not easy and of course you feel the need to take in food, but it only lasts a month.”

Algeria captain Anther Yahia, who plays for German outfit Bochum, highlighted the problems that many practising Muslim footballers face. “Last year, during Ramadan we played against Zambia after sunset,” he said. “We stopped fasting at 7 pm and kick-off was at 10 pm, just three hours later. It was a real challenge, but in the end faith gives you the strength to overcome any difficulties.”

A number of players have benefitted from the efforts of their clubs too, with several teams keen to help out during what is a holy month for Muslims. Perhaps the most striking example are PSV Eindhoven, who have developed a diet rich in liquids for Ibrahim Afellay, Otman Bakkal and Nordin Amrabat to help make training easier and compensate for fluids lost during the day.

Over at PSV’s Eredivisie rivals Ajax, meanwhile, the fast certainly does not seem to have affected Moroccan duo Ismail Aissati and Mounir El Hamdaoui, with the latter particularly inspired as he struck twice in Saturday’s 3-0 win against Roda. In a similar vein, Moroccan midfielder Adil Chihi and Lebanese defender Youssef Mohamad have encountered plenty of understanding at German side Köln. “They’ve been fasting [during Ramadan] for several years now,” said club spokesperson Christopher Limperopoulos. “They know how their bodies react. They are doing what they always have done: practise their faith while they work as professional footballers.”

Team supervisor Markus Rauert also indicated that Youssef Mohamad is often able to break the fast when the team are scheduled to play away from home.

“We make a lot of long trips on Saturdays, which gives Youssef the status of a traveller,” he said. “That permits him to eat and drink during the day.”

In addition, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the bodies representing Muslim professional footballers have authorised players to eat during Ramadan. That stance was adopted following decisions made by the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo and the European Council for Fatwa and Research, and it was greeted with enthusiasm by Frankfurt president Bernd Reisig. “This makes it possible for a professional player to do his job to the very highest standard while fully respecting his religious beliefs,” he said.

In Serbia, the Mufti of Belgrade has allowed Red Star’s Ghanaian midfielder, Mohammed-Awal Issah, to eat and drink on match days during Ramadan. Club spokesperson Marko Nikolovski explained that the Mufti “permitted Issah to eat if he felt weak on match days. Issah felt a bit awkward at first as he’s a pious lad, but he’s now comfortable with the idea.”

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