LONDON — With the London Games fast approaching and the holy month of Ramadan already here, Muslim athletes are faced with a dilemma of Olympian proportions.
Long summer days in London translate into 18 hours of fasting — something that many Muslim athletes consider impossible to do without losing their competitive edge.
Many of the 3,500 or so Muslim athletes expected to compete at the London Olympics will keep eating as usual.
“I could not fast, I need all that stuff, like protein, carbs and minerals,” Egyptian kayaker Mustafa Saied said.
“I can do it after Ramadan and Allah will accept it because there was an important reason.”
Some have looked for Islamic tenets that allow exemptions from fasting, such as for those traveling. Others decided to postpone fasting until after competitions, and some will compensate for the lost days with charity work or by donating to the poor.
“It’s impossible for us to fast Ramadan during the London Olympics,” said Yasser Hefny, an Egyptian modern pentathlete. “We have five disciplines to perform. We do a lot of effort during the whole day.”
The High Egyptian Islamic Council gave athletes a reprieve by stating that Olympic athletes are not required to fast during coaching or competition.
Egyptian pentathlon coach Sherif Al-Eryan said athletes have also sought guidance from a cleric before traveling to London and had decided not to fast during the games. Like other athletes, Al-Erayn said, they will have their “full menu in an open buffet” in the athletes village.
“I guess there is no problem. Our athletes could never achieve anything if they fasted this year,” Al-Eryan said. “They have religious permission for this. But it is necessary for them as Muslims to fast after the month of Ramadan for the days they had to eat during the Olympics.”
However, the officials and coaches will be fasting “as we’re not making as much effort as the athletes,” Al-Eryan added.
The last time Ramadan started in mid-July was in 1980 during the Moscow Games. Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania was fasting and competing then. He won Olympic silver in the 5,000 meters.
“Once you decide to do something, Allah is behind you,” Nyambui told the faith-based Religion News Service.
Many Muslim athletes have competed in professional or national competitions while observing the fast, including NBA stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
London organizers said they are prepared to accommodate Muslim athletes, media, spectators, workforce and volunteers in all of London’s Olympic venues.
Teams can order fast-breaking packs which include water, energy bars and fruit. The athletes village dining hall offers 24-hour catering and halal meals.
“Our athletes will not be fasting during the Olympics,” said Shaikh Khalid Bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, the chief executive of the Bahrain Olympic Committee.
“It’s simple in Islam. Since they are traveling, they can take these days at the Olympics on loan and then make up for them until next Ramadan.” — AP