Muslims prepare for Olympic Hunger Games

At the start of Ramadan, Muslim athletes face a tough decision of whether to fast while competing at London 2012.

    Muslims prepare for Olympic Hunger Games
    Moe Sbihi, above left, is Britain’s first Muslim Olympic rower and - after consulting an Imaam - has decided he will compensate for missing fasts through acts of charity [GALLO/GETTY]

    With today marking the start of Ramadan, Muslim athletes face a tough decision of whether to fast while competing at London 2012.

    During Ramadan, all able-bodied Muslims are expected to fast from sunrise to sunset – unless they are sick, travelling or face health risks.

    Some countries have been particularly worried about the impact of Ramadan on their chances for success. The likes of Turkey, Egypt and Morocco all lobbied the International Olympic Committee to shift the games to another time of year. But the IOC refused any such calls, citing that the Olympics are a secular event.

    However Islamic authorities in some countries have granted the 3,000 plus Muslim Olympians a reprieve.

    Noting that fasts during the English summer will last over 17 hours, religious leaders in the United Arab Emirates for instance, have issued a ruling that permits athletes to not fast and recover the days after the competition.

    Al Jazeera caught up with Pakistani Olympic swimmer Anum Bandey to discuss the matter. She told Al Jazeera that “it will not be possible to fast during the competition”.

    “During the training sessions and the competition I will not fast, however I will follow my religious obligations, and I will make up the missed fasts later” said the 15 year old.

    ‘Due cause’

    Moe Sbihi, Britain’s first ever Muslim Olympic rower, is another athlete trying to balance his religious duties with the Olympics. After consulting an Imaam, Sbihi decided he will compensate for missing fasts through charity.

    He will provide 60 meals to poor people in his father’s homeland, Morocco, for every fast he misses.

    Sbihi’s stance is that Islamic texts say you must fast unless you have a due cause, and for him the Olympics fits that bill.

    Some athletes however, like Algeria’s Mohamed-Khaled Belabbas, are not fazed by competing during Ramadan. He will fast as he attempts to win the 3000 metre steeplechase, and better the silver won by Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania – who fasted while competing in the 5000 metres at the 1980 summer games.

    More recently Bosnian footballer Edin Dzeko scored four goals, while fasting, in an English Premier League game Tottenham Hotspur last season.

    Such achievements dent the argument that fasting has an adverse effect on competitiveness. In fact there is little evidence on the effects of fasting on the “elite athlete”, according to Professor Ron Maughan of Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences.

    He told Al Jazeera that “it seems likely that performance in many events will not be affected provided athletes adopt effective coping strategies. For example, it should make no difference to a runner in a 100 metre heat taking place in the morning”.

    He did not even seem concerned about the impact of difficult weather conditions on fasting athletes.

    “There may be challenges, especially if the weather in London turns warm. Muslim athletes competing in London will be very experienced. Novices do not go to the Olympic Games - and all athletes will have developed a coping strategy that maximises their performance”.

    With the Olympics only a week away, most athletes would have already decided whether they will fast or not.

    While some might fast and be bold, others might sacrifice Ramadan in search of gold. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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