Muslim holy month forcing tough decisions from World Cup’s Islamic players

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Mesut Özil’s had to made his decision. So has Karim Benzema. If Yaya Touré’s team was still active, he’d have a hard choice to make, too, as does every other Islamic player still participating in this year’s World Cup. With the religion’s holy month upon us, players are having to choose strictly observing their religious beliefs or doing what’s best for themselves on the field.

During Ramadan, which started today, Muslims are expected to fast during daylight hours for 30 days. No food. No drink. Not even water.

Those who practice the religion typically wake up early to nourish themselves for the day. For others, there are exceptions. Children, the elderly, those who are ill, or women who are pregnant can all nourish themselves as needed, as can travelers. Various interpretations of Islam hold Ramadan should not interfere with your health.

But what about a soccer player that may run six miles in a day? And what if those miles are in the middle of Brazilian humidity? Should players sacrifice, or does their profession create a health concern?

For Özil, a starter for the German national team, the job creates an exception.

“Ramadan starts on Saturday, but I will not take part because I am working,” he said, as reported by NBC News. Touré, likewise, said he would not be fasting during Brazil 2014.

“Fasting? Have you seen the weather?” Touré told United Arab Emirates outlet The National. “I would die.”

According to NBC News, experts side with Touré, noting the dehydration that comes with fasting can lead to heat illness, heat stroke, and an inability to focus. FIFA’s expert, however, disagrees:

Still, Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer, told a media briefing this week that players observing the fast should not suffer any deterioration in their physical condition.

“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,” Dvorak told reporters.

Gravani wasn’t aware of any research that examined players in the field, but she said that lab work has shown that if players maintain their diets at night they can perform well during some exercise routines.

Hopefully the Muslim players in Brazil consider the opposing view. Those players are present on the rosters of Algeria, Belgium, France, Germany, Nigeria, and Switerzland (if not more) and can’t afford to buy into a rosy view.

“We need to discuss it among ourselves,” Algeria’s Djamel Mesbah said, as reported by the Associated Press. “It’s clear that our religion is very important for the team, so we will talk about it and see how to go forward.”

Even short of the most deleterious effects, the dehydration associated with fasting can increase the potential for muscle cramping and tears. With many considering the players on travel away from their homes, however, some of the World Cup’s biggest stars may be able to reconcile their religious commitments with the demands of Brazil.

NBC News has a full writeup on the issue, one where athletes appear to be leaning toward breaking their fast while active in Brazil.