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Fasting footballers

Fasting footballers

During the month of Ramadan, those who observe it cannot eat or drink from dawn until sunset. How do you cope if you’re a Muslim footballer who fasts?

Life in the Premier League will be a little different for some of the players this month.

Those who are Muslim will be observing Ramadan. It’s a month of prayers, reflection, community, and fasting to commemorate Muhammad’s first revelation. 

That’s when the first part of what would become the Qur’an became known to him.

Those who observe fasting can’t eat or drink from dawn until sunset, which as you can imagine, proves particularly challenging for professional athletes. 

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are both Muslim, and their customs are welcomed by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. 

“It’s really, really nice to have him…not only him but Sadio as well because both are Muslims and live that as well. It’s nice to have somebody around full of joy, full of…full of love, actually. And have all these…he’s doing what he’s doing around his religion but he’s in the middle of the dressing room, he’s sensationally good with all the boys, yes he’s very influential for us and if somebody thought he’s influential for the rest of the world then…good.” 

This is Anfield

So how does a footballer navigate the challenges of Ramadan?

A former Liverpool player – Kolo Toure – has been talking about observing Ramadan during his playing days. 

He says that not drinking water after intense exercise was very difficult. But while some may see this as an almost impossible task for a footballer, Kolo Toure thinks about it differently.

“This is a time of blessing, this is a time of praying more than ever. Yeah, I’m looking forward to Eid, with the family, with the friends and all the Muslim community and as well the non-Muslim community because as you know, this is a moment when you have to share with other people from the world.”

Sky Sports News

Kolo Toure says that his experience as a footballer during Ramadan was “incredible.” He says although the first week is very hard, after that time the body gets used to it and you stop thinking about the lack of water.

Now at Leicester as a first-team Coach, Kolo Toure can help other players navigate the challenges of Ramadan. 

Last April, Leicester and their opponents Crystal Palace made an agreement with the referee to pause the match at sunset so the Muslim players could break their fast. 

Wesley Fofana – who gladly took on board an energy drink in the pre-agreed pause – later wrote on Twitter “that’s what makes football wonderful.”

Wonderful it may be, but as Kolo Toure explained, it’s far from easy. 

Footballers are under pressure to make sure that there is no drop in their performance level while fasting. 

“You work in an environment. You’re working with people, and you have to try and be as disciplined as possible. By making sure that when you have time to sleep, you go to sleep, you rest well. And when you come on the pitch and you train with your team-mates, you give 100%. You have to make sure that they don’t notice you’re doing fasting. And I think that’s the key.”

Sky Sports News

Being a Muslim athlete might also mean you have to ask for what you need to properly observe your religious practices.

Ebadur Rahman is the founder of Nujum Sports. He’s  drawn up a Muslim Athletes Charter to help challenge organisations to recognise and provide appropriate support to Muslims in sport.

The charter lists ten things that Muslim players need, including places to pray, halal food to eat, and of course, being allowed to fast during Ramadan.

It’s designed to make teams aware of what’s needed, removing pressure from the individual who might always feel they have to ask.

“For the Muslim Charter, for it to be there, it makes it easier for people…well not people, easier for the Muslims…who are playing and who may not be asking about these things or may have…or feel a kind of a shyness towards that, you know. Towards asking for these things, so…perhaps, there’s probably a football player going you know, I hope my team signs this charter!”

Green Lane Masjid

The Premier League has an annual TV audience of around 4.7 billion. And so, inevitably, Muslim players become ambassadors for their religion, whether they want that role or not.

“When people are watching you, you do have some of the responsibility to – especially a believer, as a Muslim – to act the way that a Muslim should, so that people understand who Muslims are.” 

Green Lane Masjid

So for players like Kolo Toure, observing Ramadan is especially important, not just to fulfil his duty as a Muslim, but to help others to understand more about the religion.

He says that in an increasingly multicultural society, that it’s more important than ever that we get together and understand each other.

He’s not wrong.

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and mixed by Imy Harper.