Ramadan and Football
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world with more than two billion followers across the globe. It is no wonder that Muslims are involved every aspect of the most popular sport in the world, whether it is playing on the pitch or working behind the scenes.
The list of elite level Muslim footballers is extensive, it includes Mesut Özil, Karim Benzema, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Riyad Mahrez and İlkay Gündoğan to name a few. Therefore, with the month of Ramadan upon us, it is only right to explore the religious obligations that are placed on Muslim footballers and what the industry is doing to accommodate them.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, as it is the month that Allah first revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). During this month, healthy Muslim adults practice self-discipline by fasting (abstaining from eating or drinking) from sunrise to sunset every day. Muslims believe that all good deeds are multiplied during the holy month and spend more time praying, reflecting, and reading the Quran, as well as giving to charity to become closer to Allah.
Physical benefits of fasting during Ramadan
On top of the spiritual and psychological benefits of fasting during Ramadan, there are also numerous physical benefits, which include:
- Lower heart rate and blood pressure
- Healing of the lining of the digestive system
- Reduced stress on the immune system
- It provokes substantial remodelling of the gut microbiome
- The cleansing and remove of toxins
- It promotes the healing of damaged cells
- Increased energy, better concentration and improved memory (towards the latter stages of Ramadan)
Can footballers fast while playing?
Numerous elite level players have fasted while playing. It has been revealed that Karim Benzema had been fasting before scoring his hat-trick for Real Madrid against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final last week.
Another example is Paul Pogba, who was fasting when Manchester United beat Roma 6-2 in last year’s UEFA Europa League semi-final. Pogba scored a header in the 75th minute.
Finally, during Liverpool’s 2019 UEFA Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur, both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané are reported to have been fasting. Salah scored in the opening 2 minutes and was later seen opening his fast with water at the 38th minute of the match. Liverpool went on to win the game 2-0.
Although playing football at the highest level requires phenomenal fitness, stamina and conditioning, these are a few examples of elite player’s performances not dropping while undertaking the fast.
What is football doing to support players that are fasting?
Over recent years football has adapted to accommodate and even support those that are following their religious obligation to fast.
In the build up to the 2019 UEFA Champions League final, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp fully supported Salah and Mané fasting, “There is no problem with the fast of my players, I respect their religion, they were always wonderful and they offered the best whether they were fasting or not … In this life, there are many things more important than football.”
Last season in the Premiere League there was an informal agreement between captains to allow a brief break at a goal kick or throw-ins to allow any Muslim players that were fasting to open their fast. Furthermore, during last season’s meeting between Leicester City and Crystal Palace, a pause had been organised by both teams and officials at Iftar time to allow Foxes defender Wesley Fofana and Eagles midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate to open their fasts. Crystal Palace’s Head of Sports Medicine, Doctor Zafar Iqbal was integral in planning this break.
Endorsed and funded by the Premier League and EFL, the Muslim Chaplains in Sport (MCS) work with all 92 professional football clubs to deliver educational lectures and seminars to raise awareness regarding Islam and practices of Muslim athletes. Formed in 2014, this demonstrates the importance the Premier League and EFL place on learning to support Muslim players.
The work done by Nujum Sports has also raised awareness of Muslims in sports by creating the Muslim Athlete Charter which seeks to „challenge organisations to create positive change“ to support Muslim athletes. As is customary, Nujum Sports sent out 270 Ramadan gift packs this year, 180 of which were sent to footballers from the Premier League down to non-league. High-profile recipients include, Rayan Ait-Nouri, Asmir Begovic and Adama Traoré, while Derby manager Wayne Rooney handed them out to the club’s academy players.
Watford Manager, Roy Hodgson, hailed the work done by Nujum Sports, “We’ll keep supporting our players in the best way we can, and it was good to see our players issued with gift packs from Nujum Sports recently. I was pleased to hear that there’s a lot of support from the club for Muslim organisations.”
With the rise of elite Muslim footballers fasting during Ramadan and the number of Muslims involved in the industry, more people are becoming aware of Ramadan and what it entails. We are now seeing non-Muslim players, managers and officials working together to support their Muslim colleagues practicing an integral part of their faith. As with all aspects of society, an awareness and respectful approach will help us ensure that we widen the pool of talent in the industry and do not exclude anyone due to their beliefs. It is hoped that the work that is being done will encourage future generations to join the sport.