Last Updated: Fri Jul 20, 2012 08:52 am (KSA) 05:52 am (GMT)

Ramadan coincides with Olympics, leaving Muslim athletes in a dilemma

Canadian long-distance runner Mohammed Ahmed plans to break his fast during the Olympics but will make it up by fasting extra days after Ramadan. (Reuters)
Canadian long-distance runner Mohammed Ahmed plans to break his fast during the Olympics but will make it up by fasting extra days after Ramadan. (Reuters)

With more than 3,000 Muslim athletes and officials attending the London Olympic Games, fasting Ramadan becomes a challenge along with athletic training.

Fasting involves the absence of food and water during the daytime, which can last up to 17 hours in Britain.

Some of the Muslim athletes in the Olympics include Somali-Canadian Mohammed Ahmed, a 10,000-meter runner, and the Algerian Khaled Belabbas who is competing in the steeplechase.

“I will fast like I always have. It will not be a novelty for me,” Khaled Belabbas told Globe And Mail.

Some Muslim participants felt they had to compromise. Ahmed, for instance, will break his fast during the Olympics but will make it up by fasting extra days after Ramadan.

“Mohammed Ahmed is Muslim and will be abiding by Ramadan after his competition at the Olympic Games, he will not fast before,” said Athletics Canada’s information director Mathieu Gentes.

The Moroccan Mohammed Sbihi will break his fast while competing during the Olympics. After consulting with an Islamic cleric, he opted for donating 60 meals for the poor in compensation for every day of Ramadan that he misses.

The Moroccan swimmer Sara El-Bekri was also another Muslim athlete who opted for not fasting during this Ramadan. “Our physical ability is undoubtedly impaired,” the African champion at 50- and 100-meter breaststroke told international news site France 24. “We are split between the desire to respect one of the five pillars of our religion and the need to arrive in London in the best possible physical condition to compete at the Olympics.”

This is not the first time for religion overlap with sports. Scottish sprinter Eric Lindell, a devout Christian, withdrew from an Olympic 100-meter race in 1924 that took place on Sunday. On the other hand, the Jewish Sandy Koufax declined to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series for Los Angeles Dodgers which had coincided on the day of Yom Kippur.

The Olympic Games can be staged until August 31, extending almost 10 days into Ramadn. Joanna Manning Cooper, spokeswoman for London 2012, said six years ago that organizers “did know about it when we submitted our bid and we have always believed we could find ways to accommodate it.”

The Olympic National Committee refused a request made by the Islamic Human Rights Commission 6 years ago to reschedule the games in accordance with Ramadan on the grounds that it is a secular sports organization and that fasting was a personal choice made by the athletes individually.

Sport scientist Ronald Maughan of Loughborough University in Britain, who chaired the IOC working group, said, “Some individual Muslim athletes say they perform better during Ramadan even if they are fasting because they’re more intensely focused and because it’s a very spiritual time for them.”

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