Much like the story of the American high school football team in suburban Detroit, the professional soccer league in the United Arab Emirates will be shifting the start times of its matches as it kicks off its season during Ramadan. In Detroit they will be starting practices after 11 PM, and similarly in the UAE matches will be starting well after 10 PM. This way, players will have time for iftaar as well as maghrib salat before getting ready for match time.
â€œWeâ€™re used to that since we were young,â€ Haider Aili, captain of Abu Dhabiâ€™s Al Wahda soccer team, told CNN. â€œAnd weâ€™re very lucky that weâ€™re in a Muslim country so our federation and all of the atmosphere is provided for us.â€
Hatem Jemaa, the Al Wahda Club team doctor, told CNN, â€œFrom the second week until two weeks after Ramadan, we see the change. You have the decrease of the performance. They cannot make a lot of work. Theyâ€™re tired and we must adjust the training. In Ramadan, we donâ€™t eat and we donâ€™t drink, so we must give more hydration and more electrolytes,â€ he said. â€œEvery day, we give the players what they need.â€
Ironically, in Iran one of their most prominent soccer players, Ali Karimi, hailed as the â€œAsian Maradonaâ€ was kicked off of his team for not fasting. The football club Steel Azin issued a statement saying, â€œâ€¦respecting Godâ€™s laws and honoring the sacred laws of Islam are of the utmost importance to Steel Azin.â€
Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil is another prominent Muslim footballer who has made the personal choice not to fast during the season. While several other prominent soccer players, including Inter Milanâ€™s Sulley Ali Muntari, and Sevillaâ€™s Frederic Kanoute, make the choice to fast during play.
European coaches have dealt with this problem in differing ways. The manager of English soccer team Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, has allowed his players to fast. Arsenal happens to employ a large number of North African Muslim players. However, some European club managers have not been so accommodating. Current Real Madrid manager, and former Inter Milan manager, JosÃ© Mourinho declared that Muslim players should not fast. He was subsequently criticized by Muslim leaders, including Mohamed Nour Dachan, head of the Union for the Communities and Organizations of Islam in Italy, who stated publicly , â€œI think Mourinho could do with talking a little less. A player who practices Islam does not perform less on the pitch. These players must fast.â€
In fact, a study in 2009 by the Laboratoire de Physiologie et dâ€™explorations fonctionnelles in Dakar, Senegal, carried out a scientific investigation into the effects of Ramadan on athletes. According to their report, Ramadan submits the body to metabolic changes; and a reduction in glucose, essential in the process for energy, can result. 30 healthy athletes, with an average age of 25 were recruited for the study. They all had a comparable diet but the study found that the bodyâ€™s reserves of glucose in the athletes were elevated compared to that of non-athletes.
There are is some divergence of opinion as to whether one is allowed to break the fast to enable one to participate in sports. Some Muslim leaders have allowed athletes to play as normal and make up their fast at a later stage in the year. ZMD, the Muslim Central Council in Germany, has stated, in collaboration with Egyptian mosques, that it has been authorized to allow professional Muslim soccer players to eat normally during Ramadan.
Al Azhar University in Cairo, one of Islamâ€™s leading authorities, has also declared that professional athletes can be excused from fasting if their livelihood is at stake. And the issue of fasting issue is not just one for footballers to deal with. The 2012 Olympic Games will take place in London during Ramadan, leaving upwards of 3000 Olympic athletes with a difficult choice to make.