Ramadan and the World Cup

Foot on top of a soccer ball resting on a soccer pitch

This year, the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting observed by Muslims around the world, coincides with the World Cup. While Muslim athletes will not be fasting during the month-long tournament, they could be affected during the matches and preparation in the lead-up to the event. How are athletes able to both observe their faith and remain dedicated, strong athletes at the same time?

Liverpool fans found themselves curious about their star player, Mohamed Salah’s, intention to fast. Prior to the World Cup, he was faced with the decision leading up to the Champions League final on the 26th, and ultimately decided not to fast before the match. According to the Independent, “[Liverpool] Manager Jurgen Klopp was quizzed on his star man's plans but insisted it was a private matter for Salah and Salah alone. ‘Religion is private, how I understand it,’ he said in his pre-match press conference. ‘Nothing to say about that but all fine you will see him out there.’”

Now, he and the rest of his Egyptian squad, as well as teams and players from numerous other countries, face the task of both fasting and training ahead of the opening round of the World Cup. As Liverpool’s manager stated in regards to Salah, the decision to fast or not is a personal, private matter, and while some players may choose to stop fasting, others choose to observe Ramadan as usual. It isn’t considered unacceptable to forgo the practice, either: “In Islam, you are allowed to break your fast ‘with anything that is adequate need’ or if you are travelling during the day,” which applies to many players who will find themselves traveling for matches.

ESPN notes that “Germany is one of several European teams -- along with Belgium, France and Switzerland -- to field a number of prominent Muslim players. The list reads like an All-Star team: Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Ilkay Gundogan and Antonio Rudiger of Germany; Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante of France; Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj and Nacer Chadli of Belgium. Mane, meanwhile, will represent Senegal in Russia.” Teams from some pre-dominantly Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia are likely more familiar with juggling the religious and athletic demands, as their squads will follow the custom of fasting during the day before training at night.

While coaches and trainers worry about players’ energy and ability during a month of deprivation, some players believe that it makes them stronger overall: “Two-time NBA champion Hakeem Olajuwon said fasting while playing was actually an advantage to him. ‘When you are fasting, it's amazing,’ he told The Guardian. ‘You feel so light and energetic. Full of energy, that's the way I feel. If you have that mentality that 'I'm fasting, there is no food and I'm tired,' you act that way.’”

Whether or not every Muslim player entering the World Cup will fast is up to each individual, but many of them know that they at least have a community of other athletes facing the same tasks: to achieve their goals as both athletes on the soccer pitch and Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan.