Football while fasting: How Ramadan Affects World Cup Preparations
Members of Saudi contingent (Saudi online)
Russia’s opponents in the opening fixture, Saudi Arabia will play their first match during Ramadan. Moreover, their base in St Petersburg is currently experiencing 18 hours of daylight. Faced with such strictures, the majority of the Saudi camp have opted to defer their fast till after the tournament. Citing travel as a cause for postponement is a common dispensation during Ramadan. It was given the rubber stamp by Saudi authorities who issued abstention permits to players who required them.
Members of Iran men’s national football team (Press TV)
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there has not been much complaining about the effects of Ramadan on athletic conditioning. “Ramadan does not really affect training” said the forward Reza Ghoochannejhad. President Hassan Rouhani drew a direct parallel between fasting and training. “You go to the gym to prepare yourself for an important international competition,” he said. “ The month of Ramadan is the gym for all of us. It is about patience and resistance.” Due to the divergent nature of the Ramadan calendar in different countries, Iranian players will not have finished fasting by the time they play Morocco on Friday.
Moroccan national football team (Morocco world news)
Of all the countries facing the fasting dilemma, Morocco have been the most circumspect. Fasting in their country also comes to an end on Friday night, after the crucial group B opener with Iran, but neither the Moroccan FA nor the religious body that issues fatwas in Morocco, the Higher Council of Ulema, have commented on the team’s preparations.
Tunisia’s national team (Getty Images)
Tunisia’s World Cup squad are observing the fast, but there’s no doubt the players aren’t entirely happy. The midfielder Wahbi Khazri said Ramadan was “very difficult … We cannot eat or drink [when we want]. It is very complicated to prepare.” During the 58th and 47th minutes of recent friendlies against Portugal and Turkey goalkeeper Mouez Hassen went to the floor injured. This enabled treatment at the precise moment of sundown and players were not only seen rehydrating with water, but consuming glucose-rich dates by the touchline.
Some members of Nigerian team
Nigeria’s heterogeneous religious mix has left coach Gernot Rohr with fewer challenges than some of his peers in African football. He has, however, been more outspoken about the consequences of fasting. The forward Ahmed Musa and defender Shehu Abdullahi have both been observing Sawm and, despite Nigeria not playing until Sunday, Rohr is expected to rest the pair. “For the first game, it will not be easy to put it fasting away,” the German said. “It will be difficult to regain the energy lost in such a short time.”
Senegal squad (FiFA)
A majority Muslim country, Senegal have faced the same issues. “Everyone knows that high-level football isn’t compatible with Ramadan,” the coach Aliou Cissé, himself a Muslim, told local media. “I am responsible for the health of these players.” Cissé did not elaborate on how he planned to address the issue, but it has been reported in Senegal that the players collectively agreed not to fast ahead of the World Cup.