London 2012: Islamic Olympians embrace Ramadan fasting despite UK's long summer days making it a gruelling ordeal

More than 3,000 Muslim sporting stars are expected to fast from sunrise until sunset.

For the thousands of athletes hoping to win medals at this summer’s Games, nutrition is of paramount importance.

Competitors are renowned for painstakingly watching every calorie, counting each ounce of protein, as they strive for physical perfection at what is the most important time of their lives.

So spare a thought for the more than 3,000 Muslim sporting stars who are competing in the midst of Ramadan, the holy month where all adherents to Islam are expected to fast from sunrise until sunset.

The timing of London 2012, the first Olympics to coincide with Ramadan since 1980, caused so much concern within some Muslim sporting bodies that they asked the International Olympic Committee to consider moving it. One of their key concerns was the length of the daily fast that would have to be done in Britain where the daylight hours in summer are from 5am to 9pm – a gruelling ordeal for those who live closer to the Equator.

The request was declined but organisers have gone to great lengths to try and make sure Muslim athletes are catered for. The canteens at all the sporting venues are open 24 hours a day so athletes can fill up on halal food once the sun goes down.

For Ahmed Habash, Egypt’s first ever Olympic sailor, the fast in Britain is a considerably longer one than he is used to. “In Egypt sunset is at 19:00 and here in England it is 21:00,” he said. “During the actual races I am not going to fast by using the license. It does mean when I return home I’ll have to re-fast, but only for the five days I miss.”

But others relish Ramadan. “It’s a blessing month,” said Mohamed Mohamed, Somalia’s 1500m runner. “I have been waiting for this month for the past 11 months, it’s a month we are very happy to welcome. As an athlete it can get difficult, but I am ready to fast and train and to get through this difficult month.”

Most athletes have been helped by the fact that their religious leaders have allowed them to avoid fasting using various religious get-out clauses. Islamic law is often flexible. Traditionally the ill, pregnant women, travellers and those who would have their only source of income affected can fast at another time or pay money to charity instead.

There is no central religious authority in Islam so each country makes their own decision. Nonetheless Egypt, the UAE, Algeria, Morocco, Malaysia – and even highly conservative Saudi Arabia – have all allowed their athletes to put off fasting.

Yunus Dhudwala is an imam who normally works as chaplain in Newham hospital. Over the next two weeks he is one of the specially designated imams in the athlete’s village. “Most of the athletes I’ve met are either delaying fasting for a later date. But some are fasting on all the days except on the day they have to compete.”

Nonetheless there are those who still chose to go ahead with depriving themselves of food throughout the Games. Many of Morocco’s football team have insisted on fasting even though their muftis have given them permission not to. At their first game against Japan over the weekend they lost 1-0 and were forced to defend themselves against the suggestion that Ramadan might be to blame.

Moroccan forward Noureddin Amrabat was substituted after 70 minutes. “Ramadan has little effect,” he insisted. “I have less power. It’s my religion and for me the only way is that you do Ramadan. It’s not an excuse to play a match. I have my religion and I do 30 days Ramadan”.

The team’s Dutch coach Pim Verbeek added: “Of course [Ramadan’s] difficult. Physically they cannot be 100% fit, but mentally they have to be a little bit better than they are.”

Many of the scientific studies commissioned to look into the effects of fasting and sport have found little evidence to suggest it has a detrimental impact on performance.

“People often assume it will affect an athlete’s performance but it’s not as simple as that,” says Professor Ron Maughan, an expert of sporting nutrition who has studied  fasting. “Many athletes say they actually play better when they fast, they feel more focused, more in tune with their bodies.”

Somali 400m runner Zamzam Moahmed Farah would agree. “Ramadan is something we have to perform,” she said. “I’m just as fast and I will run and I don’t think it will affect me as an athlete.”

Thursday night the East London Mosque is holding a large iftar celebration for Muslims and non-Muslims which will be attended by the Palestinian Olympic team and other athletes. Iftar is the evening meal that marks the break of each daily fast and is usually celebrated communally.

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker