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Sports News of Monday, 25 April 2022


Ramadan: How players cope without food, water

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide as a period of fasting, prayer, reflection and community. Amazingly, Muslim sportsmen and women globally also fast during this period, despite having to engage in training and competing in top-class events, writes JOHNNY EDWARD

After European champions, Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat to 13-time winners Real Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash at Stamford Bridge on April 6, mercurial French midfielder N’Golo Kante was largely blamed for the Blues below-par performance.

In the past six seasons, Kante has played 253 club matches for Chelsea, scoring 13 goals and providing 15 assists. So, he’s not a great goal-scorer or goal provider.

In that same period, he has been shown the yellow card 36 times and has not been sent off since joining the Blues. So, he’s not really a defender either.

At 168cm – shorter than Tuesday’s opponent Luka Modric (172cm) when they won 3-2 in extra time in Madrid – you could miss him on the pitch amid the muscled-up giants of the modern game.

But diminutive midfield Trojan Kante is often Chelsea’s engine room or livewire in the middle of the pack.

Against Madrid, however, Kante was substituted at half-time for the first time in his career in the encounter as they suffered a 3-1 loss to the Los Blancos.

He seemed the missing link as the Los Blancos cruised to an emphatic win away from home.

While Tuchel claimed the decision was a tactical one during his post-match interview, he suggested the midfielder’s inconsistency lately had been down to his lack of food – fasting.

As a committed Muslim, Kante is not allowed to eat or drink during daylight hours until Ramadan ends on May 1.

“One thing is very clear, N’Golo (Kante) is a key player with outstanding qualities, unique qualities,” Tuchel said afterwards.

“For us it is N’Golo, a unique player who can give something to the team that nobody else can.

“At the moment he is fasting due to his religion, due to his belief. Maybe another reason, he is not doing it for the first time but if you don’t eat during the day for many days it can have an effect.

“He is used to it but yeah, maybe it is also part of the explanation why we had the feeling he is not on his highest level if you compare how much of an influence he was in the last campaign against Real Madrid.”

Ramadan usually comes up in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims attempt to give up all their bad habits by fasting from sunrise to sunset.

Lasting roughly a month – Ramadan involves abstaining from food, drink, smoking and intimate relationships, regular daily prayers, self-reflection and acts of charity.

At sunset, Muslims gather to break their fasts, replenishing their spiritual selves.

But there are exceptions for those who are sick, elderly, pregnant, nursing, or traveling.

In the sports world, some of the biggest talents are Muslim and religiously adhere to the Ramadan teachings.

But it could be very difficult for some of these sportsmen and women, like Kante, who engage in continuous training and competition on empty stomachs without food and drinks.

A lack of energy and strength from not eating and taking fluids is often the first thought of those fasting, as it affects their overall performance when duty calls.

This has been evident since the start of the Ramadan, with Muslims who are playing topflight football in Europe.

Leicester City’s first-team coach, Kolo Toure, also stated how challenging playing during Ramadan could be and the toll it took on the bodies of professional footballers.

“I think not drinking water or taking fluids is the most difficult part during Ramadan as a football player,” the former Arsenal and Manchester City defender said in a recent interview with Skysports.

“You have to make sure they don’t notice that you are fasting. I think that’s the key, trying to not show any weaknesses, but it is very difficult for players.

“The first day of Ramadan is very hard, the second day is really hard and same goes for the week but midway through your body just gets used to it, and you don’t even start thinking about water.”

Nigerian star footballers like Super Eagles captain, Ahmed Musa, Abdulahi Shehu, Umar Sadiq, Ramon Azeez, Afeez Aremu and Asisat Oshoala all diligently adhere to the fasting period.

For instance, Musa admits it’s difficult playing football during Ramadan but says he copes well during the 30-day period.

“Playing football during Ramadan is a very difficult thing but I am used to it. It’s not anything new, we can’t stop Ramadan (fasting) because of football,” Musa said.

“I played at two World Cups during the Ramadan and I did well, but the energy loss is difficult to balance in such a short time.”

Musa scored a brace against Argentina at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and another double against Iceland at the 2018 edition in Russia.

For St Pauli’s Aremu, the month of Ramadan is his favorite time of the year and it is a reminder for him that being a footballer is a gift from the Almighty Allah.

As a defensive midfielder who covers distances on the pitch, competes in duels, Aremu’s main challenges during Ramadan is how to conserve energy as much as possible while fasting.

“This is not the first time I will be playing during Ramadan. I always observe the holy month every year, but I must admit that it is a huge test of my endurance, mental strength, and dedication. It’s not easy but this is my religion. My coaches have helped me a lot during this period because once they notice the effects of the fasting, they take me out of the game.”

Super Falcons captain, Asisat Oshoala, who recently returned to training, tweeted on the 10th day of Ramadan that she was weakened by the fasting.

“This fasting is taking its toll on me and it is not sunset yet at 4:30pm the sun is still shining. Unlimited water!”

Almeria’s gangling striker Umar, who is the fourth highest scorer in the Spanish Segunda, said the change in time for games had made it a bit easy for him during Ramadan.

“Naturally it is not easy going without food and water but it’s obligatory for my religion that as a Muslim I must observe Ramadan,” Umar said.

“This season has been a bit good because since the start of the Ramadan the timing of some of our games fall after the evening call at sunset. So, that helps me in recharging my batteries for the games.”

Even at the grassroots level, Afeez Oshoba, a 2019 African Games welterweight silver medalist said his body deregulated every Ramadan season, following a change in his pattern of training and dieting after 11 months.

“Now that I’m fasting, it means less and less energy. It will also send weaker signals to the muscles of the body, but these are moments to want to stay close to God for more blessings,” Osoba told Sunday PUNCH.