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World Cup players set for Ramadan

Karim Benzema

This weekend will mark the start of the World Cup knockout stages, it also sees the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic period of worship. 

It is the first time since 1986 that Ramadan has fallen during the tournament.

Throughout the practice, devotees refrain from taking in food or liquid, smoking and sex, from before sunrise until sundown. This is intended to teach patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to Allah.

Without food or liquid for 13 and a half hours, which is the current amount of daylight hours in Brazil, combined with high temperatures and humidity, means Muslim players competing in the tournament need to plan dietary requirements carefully in order to sustain optimum performance on the pitch.

Practicing Muslims who will be competing in the last 16 of the World Cup include France's Karim Benzema, Bacary Sagna, Mamadou Sakho and Moussa Sissoko, the greater part of the Algerian team, Germans Mesut Özil and teammate Sami Khedira. Belgium's Mousa Dembélé and Marouane Fellaini.

Some players have sought permission to eat and drink during the month and postpone fasting until the tournament is over, while some are intent on refraining. Those players fasting and competing in the World Cup as well as those in pre-season training will require a strict plan to ensure that their body stays fully fit.

Ivory Coast defender and PFA Management Committee member Kolo Toure admits that observing the period of Ramadan requires immense discipline. However, he sees no reason to not observe fasting during this month, claiming that it actually makes him stronger as a footballer.

"You definitely need discipline. For me, the first five days are difficult but after that, the body just starts to [adapt] and you feel really happy,"

"I think it’s amazing how Ramadan can make you really strong."

Ivory Coast defender and PFA Management Committee member Kolo Toure.

The Liverpool defender has been fasting during Ramadan periods throughout his career. However he insists that it is essential to make sure that a sustainable meal and exercise plan is created.

"I’ve been observing Ramadan during all the years I’ve been in football. It’s very important that you eat well. It’s important that you eat the right food because you can gain weight or you can have less food in your body."

"That’s why you need to drink very well. You also need to be aware of what you are doing, because your body is missing things. With the doctor and all the people in the club, we try to work on that. They give me things that I can take to help me feel better."

Players are advised to eat plenty of slow-release carbohydrates, like sweet potato and corn, outside of fasting hours, according to Zaf Iqbal, Liverpool FC’s club doctor. They should also avoid anything with too much sugar, which is a quick-release carbohydrate.

"What we try and do is make sure that players don't just have one large meal when they open their fast in the evening. We try to make sure that they have a relatively small meal and then a couple of hours later, have another meal."

"The other key thing is having plenty of fluids. So we also give them special tablets, which contain a lot of electrolytes and that helps with regards to their hydration during the day."

FIFA’s chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak has said that Muslim players at the World Cup observing Ramadan should not suffer any deterioration in their physical conditioning:

"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.

"We have done extensive studies and nothing worries us.

"The players observing Ramadan always have the provision to ask for an exemption and follow Ramadan at a more appropriate time. This is what I have learnt from the religious leaders in Algeria."

For more information about Ramadan and its impact on football see The FA's Ramadan & Football Factsheet, available here.