How Do Muslim Footballers Cope During Ramadan?

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.

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The knockout rounds of the 2014 FIFA World Cup coincides with the holy month of Ramadan for the first time in 28 years. Ramadan fasting poses a challenge for Muslim footballers.

It is the first time for 28 years that Ramadan has overlapped with a World Cup.

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It is the first time for 28 years that Ramadan has overlapped with a World Cup. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Algeria, Cameroon, Iran, Ivory Coast and Nigeria all have large Muslim populations, while the likes of France, Switzerland and Germany also have players of Islamic faith.

The last time Ramadan fell during a World Cup was in Mexico 1986, when three teams with Islamic traditions competed: Iraq, Algeria and Morocco. Four years earlier, at the World Cup in Spain, Ramadan also overlapped as Algeria and debutants Kuwait took part.

How do Muslim players keep themselves fit and hydrated during the holy month of Ramadan?

The issue of fasting and playing is a tricky one with the religious needs of the player somewhat at odds with the footballing needs of his manager and the country.

Managers and coaches may question the wisdom of a footballer having to train and play when fasting, but this is something that Muslims know is part of their life.
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Could star Muslim players like Germany's Mesut Ozil hobble their performance by abstaining from food and water?

Dehydration is the main issue and there may be an increased risk of nutritional and energy deficiency in players

Should players decide to respect their obligations during the Holy Month, health issues that fitness coaches will be required to address will include “dehydration and an increased risk of nutritional and energy deficiency” according to a medical research paper published in 2013 by Aspetar, the Qatar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital.

“A common occurrence is for athletes to drink large quantities of water, which is an ineffective way to improve hydration,” it said. “Consuming large volumes of water at once will induce urine loss and if done before bedtime will cause interrupted sleep."

According to Dr. Zaf Iqbal, Liverpool FC's club doctor, it is important for the players to eat small meals that are consumed in a few hours rather than just two big meals after sundown. The other key thing is to have plenty of fluids.

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Players are advised to eat plenty of slow-release carbohydrates, like sweet potato and corn, outside of fasting hours, according to Zaf Iqbal, Liverpool FC’s club doctor.

They should also avoid anything with too much sugar, which is a quick-release carbohydrate.
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"What we try and do is make sure that players don't just have one large meal when they open their fast in the evening. We try to make sure that they have a relatively small meal and then a couple of hours later, have another meal. So it's far better, rather than having just two big meals for the day, to try and space it out."

"The other key thing is having plenty of fluids. So we also give them special tablets, which contain a lot of electrolytes and that helps with regards to their hydration during the day," explained Dr. Zaf Iqbal.

Sports nutritionists suggest that the lack of fluid has a bigger impact than the lack of food. Dehydration can affect cognitive functions. It is also important for the players to take a siesta (short nap) in the afternoon.

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Fasting can be risky for players as it will increase the possibility of injury because of dehydration. They 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.

Players can lose up to six litres (11 pints) of fluids during a match. The expert, a former medical chief at French football giants Paris St Germain, said the level and quality of nutrition had to be changed to cope with exercise during Ramadan.

Muslim footballers are told to drink plenty of liquid before dawn, and to make sure they do not train during the hottest parts of the day.

Indeed, as fasting can also affect sleep patterns, some team doctors advise players to take a siesta instead. Where such steps are taken, most studies suggest that athletes’ training performance is not adversely affected.

Some Muslim players who are involved in the World Cup like Mesut Ozil has decided not to observe Ramadan in order to maintain his performance level

Germany’s Mesut Ozil will not observe Ramadan but many World Cup players who do follow the Muslim fasting month will be under strict medical surveillance.

In 2008, the Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s main Islamic body, allowed professional footballers to eat during Ramadan if they were bound by contracts to play during the holy month and they felt that fasting will impact their performance. Other workers involved in ‘hard labour’ are also given a dispensation.

Ozil said he falls into this category. "I can't do it because of my job here, and I'd like to think the Algerians will do it just like me," he told kicker. "We would risk our health by not drinking or eating. And that would also not be consistent with the Quran."

Besides Ozil, other Muslim players like Bacary Sagna of France and Yaya Toure of Ivory Coast will not be fasting during the Ramadan

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.”
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Toure told The National he would not consider it. “Fasting? Have you seen the weather? I would die,” he said. Other players and teams are less willing to address the issue – and for good reason.

What about the Algerians? Did they fast too?

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The issue is also being given consideration by members of Algeria's squad, the last Muslim country in the competition, ahead of their round of 16 game against Germany.

Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic reacted angrily to questions on whether the Muslim holy month of Ramadan had affected the team’s preparations for the World Cup last-16 match against Germany, saying it was a private matter for the players.
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"This is a private matter and when you ask this you lack respect and ethics. The players will do as they wish and I would like to stop this controversy."

"It is not the first time I have Muslim players in my team, I myself am a Muslim, and I've always left them totally free. This is a private issue -- it has to do with private freedom of expression. Stop asking me about Ramadan, otherwise I will get up and leave," said Vahid.

Nabil Bentaleb, an Algerian midfielder said the team members' decision on whether or not to fast will not be announced to the public as it is up to the individual

Algeria midfielder Nabil Bentaleb also explained that the national team "will not talk about" whether they observe Ramadan or not. "I make a personal decision, but will not make it public," he added in quotes reported by kicker.

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.”

Every year during Ramadan, devotees are expected to refrain from taking in food or liquid, smoking and sex, from before sunrise until sundown. This is intended to teach patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to Allah.

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.
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It's really a case of appreciating what you have got and it sympathises with those people who haven't got as much as you have - so all the people that are suffering around the world, through lack of food and poverty.

This is intended to teach patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to Allah. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, the others being a declaration of faith, giving to charity, praying the five daily prayers and the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

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