April marked the start of Ramadan for Muslims around the world. They observe a month of fasting, increased prayer, reflection and giving to charity in the hope that these qualities will become habitual throughout the year. During the day, they abstain from food and drink – and this poses a significant challenge for Muslim players in the world of sport.
Earlier this month, in the match between Burnley and Everton, the referee interrupted the game to allow Toffees midfielder Abdullah Doukuri to break his fast. Last season, for the first time in English football, play was stopped between Leicester City and Crystal Palace to allow Foxes defender Wesley Fofana to have a drink to break his fast during the game.
Liverpool have changed their training times to help their Muslim players during Ramadan.
While Premier League rules state that captains can request a drink break after sunset for players to break their fast, Liverpool have taken extra action.
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This year during the month of Ramadan, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) held iftar events at West Ham, Crystal Palace and Bradford City, bringing the Muslim community together in faith and sport.
“Since 2013, we have been bringing together football clubs and club community organizations for Iftar events and awareness campaigns, which has led to better understanding and more in-game activities,” said Riz Rehman, Head of inclusion of players in the PFA.
“Joint activities at the club, academy and foundation level have the greatest impact and raise the most awareness internally, externally and in local communities during Ramadan. Individual clubs have the potential to bring about meaningful change in society and in the wider football community, and we want even more clubs to be part of that change and lead the way.
The PFA has developed an educational resource and workshop for clubs which aims to improve the inclusion and working conditions of Muslim players during Ramadan and throughout the year. The workshop is also provided annually as part of the PFA UEFA B coaching license courses, with former top players such as Patrice Evra and Ashley Cole having attended a workshop before.
“Football has Muslim players at all levels of the elite game, and it is paramount that future coaching staffs and multi-dimensional teams understand the needs of their players and are confident of providing the highest level of all-round support. and thus improve well-being and performance.
Last month also marked the one-year anniversary of the PFA’s launch of the Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS), a similar initiative focused on improving the experience of South Asian footballers at all levels of the professional game by creating a support network that allows them to thrive.
“We have Muslim players through all phases of the AIMS program who are fasting this year, some for the first time and others observing while living with host families. I have been in regular contact with players and clubs and it’s great to see young players reaching out to their peers for advice and guidance on how to run their training and playing schedule during Ramadan – that’s why AIMS was created , connecting and providing this additional support mechanism.
“Inclusiveness, acceptance and celebration of Muslim faith and practices should not be limited to Ramadan.”
Across the sports landscape, we have seen iftar events taking place. History was made last week at Lords Cricket Ground when the English Cricket Board (ECB) held its first-ever iftar event with talks on culture and religion. These events are indicative of the change taking place in society, but in the same breath, we must also ask ourselves why it has taken us so long to get to this point. If in 2022 we celebrate the writing of history, we must turn our attention to the structures that have kept us apart for so long.
A recent study by the University of Birmingham found that one in four Britons hold negative views about Muslims and Islam and are the “least liked” group in the UK. There is no doubt that Islamophobic portrayals of British Muslim identity in the mainstream press have contributed to this prejudice.
Inclusiveness, acceptance and celebration of Muslim faith and practices should not be limited to Ramadan. In January, Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba posted a photo of himself offering a prayer in Mecca. A flood of negative and Islamophobic comments forced Pogba to delete his post. We shouldn’t have to censor parts of our identity to live safely. To exist as a whole is a privilege.
As we come to the end of Ramadan, it’s important that as a society we reflect on how we can create safe spaces for Muslim gamers to exist, a space where they don’t have to be selective about their identity. It is not enough to offer a helping hand during this month but to turn away afterwards when players face Islamophobic attacks.
Investing in inclusive cultures is a choice and Ramadan has reminded us all of the strength of unity of faith, solidarity and community. Now it’s up to us to follow suit.