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Muslim holy month forcing tough decisions from World Cup’s Islamic players

Jun 28, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

Germany's Mesut Ozil crosses the ball during the group G World Cup soccer match between Germany and Ghana at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) AP

Mesut Özil’s had to made his decision. So has Karim Benzema. If Yaya Touré’s team was still active, he’d have a hard choice to make, too, as does every other Islamic player still participating in this year’s World Cup. With the religion’s holy month upon us, players are having to choose strictly observing their religious beliefs or doing what’s best for themselves on the field.

During Ramadan, which started today, Muslims are expected to fast during daylight hours for 30 days. No food. No drink. Not even water.

Those who practice the religion typically wake up early to nourish themselves for the day. For others, there are exceptions. Children, the elderly, those who are ill, or women who are pregnant can all nourish themselves as needed, as can travelers. Various interpretations of Islam hold Ramadan should not interfere with your health.

But what about a soccer player that may run six miles in a day? And what if those miles are in the middle of Brazilian humidity? Should players sacrifice, or does their profession create a health concern?

For Özil, a starter for the German national team, the job creates an exception.

“Ramadan starts on Saturday, but I will not take part because I am working,” he said, as reported by NBC News. Touré, likewise, said he would not be fasting during Brazil 2014.

“Fasting? Have you seen the weather?” Touré told United Arab Emirates outlet The National. “I would die.”

According to NBC News, experts side with Touré, noting the dehydration that comes with fasting can lead to heat illness, heat stroke, and an inability to focus. FIFA’s expert, however, disagrees:

Still, Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer, told a media briefing this week that players observing the fast should not suffer any deterioration in their physical condition.

“We have made extensive studies of players during Ramadan, and the conclusion was that if Ramadan is followed appropriately, there will be no reduction in the physical performances of players,” Dvorak told reporters.

Gravani wasn’t aware of any research that examined players in the field, but she said that lab work has shown that if players maintain their diets at night they can perform well during some exercise routines.

Hopefully the Muslim players in Brazil consider the opposing view. Those players are present on the rosters of Algeria, Belgium, France, Germany, Nigeria, and Switerzland (if not more) and can’t afford to buy into a rosy view.

“We need to discuss it among ourselves,” Algeria’s Djamel Mesbah said, as reported by the Associated Press. “It’s clear that our religion is very important for the team, so we will talk about it and see how to go forward.”

Even short of the most deleterious effects, the dehydration associated with fasting can increase the potential for muscle cramping and tears. With many considering the players on travel away from their homes, however, some of the World Cup’s biggest stars may be able to reconcile their religious commitments with the demands of Brazil.

NBC News has a full writeup on the issue, one where athletes appear to be leaning toward breaking their fast while active in Brazil.

  1. darkorameses - Jun 28, 2014 at 6:41 PM

    hmmm…….. I can:(1) Follow a stupid tradition or (2) NOT HURT MY COUNTRY ON THE ******* FIELD!

    • jimeejohnson - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:28 AM

      Religion = stupid tradition? I don’t think so.

      • darkorameses - Jun 29, 2014 at 7:09 PM

        I didn’t say religion is a stupid tradition. I said that that tradition is stupid. Stop being a butt-hurt tryhard that tells other people what to think, I was simply giving an opinion. I didnt say that my opinion is right or wrong (Thats why theres the upvote/downvote buttons).

      • darkorameses - Jun 29, 2014 at 7:24 PM

        If its not a trivial tradition, then why is EVERY muslim player in the world cup choosing not to follow it this month? HMMMMMMMM???????

  2. narrabeen23 - Jun 28, 2014 at 6:45 PM

    The choice these men have to make is difficult and personal in nature. I have friends who wouldn’t even consider a career in sports because it meant playing on the Sabbath, which I think takes amazing moral dedication and personal sacrifice.

    Religious liberty is a very important right, and one we should give appropriate respect to.

    • braxtonrob - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:27 PM

      “friends who wouldn’t even consider a career in sports”


      Yeah, that’s why I decided to not become a major movie star, or an astronaut, or POTUS, … because it would have interfered with my religious beliefs, … yeah, that’s it.

      • cfischeraz - Jun 28, 2014 at 9:10 PM

        braxtonrob: go rent Chariots of Fire or see what athletes at Notre Dame, BYU or other religious-based schools do when presented with games on Sundays – including NCAA tournaments. They take their religion very seriously and sometimes is costs the team.

      • braxtonrob - Jun 28, 2014 at 9:38 PM

        @cfischeraz, You missed the point … COMPLETELY, (but thanks for playin’).

      • narrabeen23 - Jun 29, 2014 at 8:07 AM

        no braxtonrob, i didn’t mean you could’ve had a sports career had it not been for your religious beliefs. lol now that would’ve been truly hilarious!

        i was referring to some genuinely talented people i grew up with :)

  3. metroplexfrog - Jun 28, 2014 at 10:22 PM

    Wonder what their teammates would think if they didn’t play. Understand beliefs but work is important too.

  4. firmbelievr - Jun 29, 2014 at 4:33 AM

    Darkoramese unfortunately you have made a very insulting statement…calling the holy month of ramadaan a stupid tradition… im boldly replying to you and dose dat have liked your statement…..u wer defintly born from a pigs arse who snorts up sausages for a living yes u reading ryt…….if ur mother hasn tawt u hw to respect dat doesn mean u can insult someones religion or tradition…..wud u like it if I said ur mother was dat pig? I gues u would ……coz u ate a heartless cake who jus insulted islam,,,,,,

    • arminscopyofswank - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Do you think your God would approve of your message?

      Or is Islam not really a turn the other cheek religion.

    • darkorameses - Jun 29, 2014 at 7:27 PM

      wow, im insensitive huh?

  5. doclolly - Jun 29, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    Jiri Dvorak is a joke… oh yea no you should be ok to fast & follow ramadan. i’d like to see how someone can run around for 90+ mins in 80-90 degree weather in a tropical humid environment without water and not be affected. FIFA should have just said it could be potentially harmful to your health just so no people on the fence decide to follow it because of this recommendation and could pass out on the field.

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