Football players such as Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante have been lauded for their performances while fastingmohamed mahmoud hassan/public domain pictures

As we approach the end of the holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims go without consuming neither food nor water from sunrise until sunset, many have applauded those athletes who have embraced their faith in times of adversity whilst sustaining consistently world-class performances. Dehydration is one of the biggest causes of fatigue, let alone combined with a lack of sufficient fuel or nutrients throughout the day, subsequently making the task of playing at the top of one’s ability for over 90 minutes an arduous, if not incomprehensible task.

“Muslim athletes are not alone in what is seemingly a challenging, but ultimately rewarding month”

And yet, footballers such as Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kanté, Saïd Benrahma, Wesley Fofana and Paul Pogba have proven to us that the human body is capable of magnificent things when inspired by the power of faith, resilience, fortitude and mental endurance. Take, for instance, N’Golo Kante, who had helped guide Chelsea to the Champions League final, despite going without food or water during his fixture in Madrid. Whilst Paul Pogba had similarly been instrumental in Manchester United’s 6-2 victory over Roma in the Europa League, even reportedly choosing to postpone breaking his fast until the full-time whistle. Through their dedication and commitment, such players have shown to us that religious observances can and do have a place in sport, and that Muslim athletes are not alone in what is seemingly a challenging, but ultimately rewarding month.

What’s equally as important as footballers battling the odds is also the fact that footballing institutions, referees, broadcasting media and journalists have paid positive attention to such impressive feats by publicising their admiration and acceptance for those athletes. Referee Graham Scott had authorised the game to be paused during the first half of Leicester City’s clash against Crystal Palace in order to allow Wesley Fofana and Cheikhou Kouyate to reenergise. The same also occurred in the case of West Ham’s 2-1 victory over Burnley in the Premier League, whereby Saïd Benrahma was able to break his fast on the touchline having already assisted goalscorer Michail Antonio. Inclusivity is a fundamental aspect of a sport that has as large of a global reach as football, and when the welcoming embrace of fans, officials and reporters with regards to players’ religious obligations depicts instances in which athletes of all levels have their values respected, one may see a brighter side to that of the horrific abuse directed towards various players. By recognising the various customs that Ramadan imposes on its players, sports can be pushed towards a more inclusive and all-embracing direction that grants its players the respect and awareness that they deserve. For the racism that has pervaded social media has its roots in ignorance, and cannot simply be tackled by intermittent social media boycotts, but itself requires a definitive attempt to educate audiences worldwide, and recent events during Ramadan have made this goal all the more possible.

“Inclusivity is a fundamental aspect of a sport that has as large of a global reach as football”

Now-retired mixed martial artist and undefeated UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, had also notably drawn attention to the gruelling preparation he underwent during his training camp in the infamous YouTube documentary series “The Dagestan Chronicles”, which coincided with Ramadan. Khabib is also well-known for proudly embracing his faith on multiple levels, exclaiming the phrase “Alhamdulillah” (‘praise be to God’) during the weigh-in prior to his fight against Conor McGregor in a crowded Vegas arena filled with jeering McGregor fans. And although politics and religion should not determine sports at any level, it would be erroneous to contend that faith has no place whatsoever. What could resonate more with Muslims than a genuine, unwavering embrace of one’s faith on a national scale, whether in the context of fasting during Ramadan, or in vocal affirmation of one’s beliefs like that of Khabib. Role models come in all shapes and sizes, all faiths, creeds, denominations, ethnicities and nationalities, and when they so happen to reflect their identity in ways that do not come at the harm of others, it really proves how religion can have a positive role in sports by resonating with individuals worldwide.


Mountain View

The social media boycott garnered momentum. Now it’s time for change.

The Midnight Ramadan League held in Birmingham is an excellent example of the ways in which athletes have genuinely inspired Muslim footballers at the grassroots level to continue pursuing their sporting aspirations during this crucial month in the Islamic calendar. Across four-weeks, various tournaments have been held for over 200 individuals looking to prioritize their physical and mental well-being, alongside that of their spirituality. And when aforementioned athletes at the elite level prove that the thrill of sports does not have to be put on hold during Ramadan, a more inclusive environment can be built as a result of their very efforts. What one can therefore see in the actions of Paul Pogba, of Khabib Nurmagemov, or of Wesley Fofana, aren’t just instances of dedication and commitment, but a striking demonstration that individuals can thrive at the elite level of sports irrespective of their backgrounds, and for that the world of sports must be eternally grateful.