Ramadan and Sports: To fast or not to fast - that is the question

Soccer News
By Kristina Puck and Peter Auf der Heyde Sep 3, 2009
- When Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho, who has referred to himself as a Special One, substituted Ghanaian international Sulley Muntari after just 30 minutes of their game against Bari, he could never have imagined what storm the substitution would unleash.
However, it was probably no so much the substitution, but what Mourinho said afterwards, that set the wheels in motion.
The Portuguese coach reportedly said: 'Muntari had some problems related to Ramadan, perhaps with this heat it's not good for him to be doing this fasting.'
Understandably, his statement was not well received.
An Italian Muslim leader, Mohamed Nour Dachan said that Mourinho would do better if he spoke less.
'A practising (Muslim) player is not weakened because we know from the Institute of Sports Medicine that mental and psychological stability can give a sportsman an extra edge on the field.
'A player who is a believing Christian, Jew or Muslim is certainly calmer psychologically and that improves his performance,' the president of the Union of Islamic communities and organisations in Italy said.
The heated exchange between Mourinho and Dachan opened an ongoing debate, which becomes relevant once a year, when million of Muslims worldwide celebrate Ramadan.
Some, like German-based Demba Ba, have found a personal compromise that sees him eat and drink between sunrise and sunset only on match days.
The 24-year-old's coach, Ralf Rangnick accepts Ba's decision, but says he gets no special favours. 'He has been practising Ramadan for many years and is used to it.'
Like Ba, there are many players who find strength for their sporting prowess in religion.
But the 30-day-long fast during Ramadan (this year from August 21 to September 19) undoubtedly saps some of the players' energy and begs the question whether professional sport and Ramadan are compatible.
Only with some compromises, says Ba and many of his colleagues, amongst them French international Franck Ribery, who converted to Islam, agree.
'On free days I fast, but when I have to play I do not fast,' the Bayern midfielder, who prays before each game, said.
Stuttgart's German international Serdar Tasci sees it similar and discusses his fasting with his club doctor in advance. 'If I don't do that, it is simply too dangerous. I am as religious as others, but I also have my profession.'
Werder Bremen midfielder Mesut Oezil, who has Turkish roots, but plays for Germany, is one of the Muslim players who does not fast after having bad experiences as a youth player. 'I felt worn-out and had headaches.'
Fatmire Bajramaj, who comes from Kosova, but is playing for the German women's team currently doing duty at the European championships in Finland, is not fasting.
'If I fast, I could not manage training and matches. I previously tried to fast for four days, but then broke it off as I could simply not function,' she said.
The head of a sports - and movement medicine at Hamburg University, Klaus-Michael Braumann, said that drinking is particularly important as it could prove fatal if they do not take in enough liquids.
He believes the negative side-effects of fasting during Ramadan are at times over-emphasized. 'It depends on how strict players adhere to Ramadan.
'However, not drinking can have catastrophic consequences for players.'
Only a few players adhere fully to Ramadan by not taking any food or liquids during the day.
One of them is Abdelazziz Ahanfouf, who is without a club at the moment. 'The first few days are very difficult, at times it is a bit sore here or there.'
But the Moroccan player seems not to suffer any loss of form. Five years ago, he scored his only hat-trick during Ramadan.
Nuremberg's Tunisian international Jaouhari Mnari is another player who strictly sticks to Ramadan. This year, however, a cold forced him to break his fast.
Breast-feeding mothers, people who are sick, travellers and pregnant women are excluded from having to fast. 'But every day that I miss, I will add at the end,' Mnari promised.