The Olympics are without a doubt one of the crowning events of the sporting world. They represent the best of the best not only for an individual sport or team, but for the entire global athletic community. You’ve gotta be in top form to even make the cut and only the best of the absolute best get a shot at that shiny gold medal. It’s of the utmost importance to keep your body in peak physical condition with proper sleep, nutrition, and training.
Yet for some athletes, one of those key components is a bit problematic. This year the Olympic games fall on Ramadan – when Muslims are required to abstain from drink, food, and sex from sunup to sundown. The month of Ramadan is intended to commemorate when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad and to allow Muslims to experience and empathize with the conditions that the impoverished face every day. Ramadan began on July 19. The Olympics run from July 27 to August 12.
Surprisingly, for Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania, winning an Olympic medal proved feasible even during a fast. Nyambui took home the silver medal in the 5000 meters while he was fasting for the Islamic holy month.
This year, more than 3,000 Muslim athletes will be competing in the Olympics. Though some of them will not fast – a decision that has been officially sanctioned by religious authorities – some athletes will observe Ramadan during the Olympic competition.
Accordin’ to Nyambui, things would have been much harder on the Olympians had the fast fallen during training months rather than during the actual competition. In his opinion, performance is most affected during the first few weeks of a fast – while the body is still adjusting. “After that people are used to it,” said Nyambui.
The list of notable Muslim athletes who have competed while fasting include NBA stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, NFL siblings Hamza and Husain Abdullah, and soccer stars Karim Benzema and Mahamadou Diarra. Some athletes even say that Ramadan helps to improve focus, discipline, and spirituality, resulting in a better overall performance.
Of course, there are some other consequences of fasting. This week two Moroccan soccer players were randomly selected to provide a urine sample for drug testing following a 2-2 draw with Honduras. Since they hadn’t consumed any liquid substances all day, it was difficult for the players to comply.
In some instances, the perceived hardships and negative impact that fasting can have on the body has led some coaches to take matters into their own hands. The coach of the United Arab Emirates men’s soccer team announced Wednesday that his team would not be fasting.
Nevertheless, the religious edict (or fatwa) excusing Muslims Olympians from the fast offers a great deal of consolation to athletes who will not be observing Ramadan this month.
“I could not fast. I need all that stuff, like protein, carbs, and minerals,” said Egyptian kayaker Mustafa Saied. “I can do it after Ramadan and Allah will accept it because there was an important reason.”