Going into the biggest soccer match in their country’s history, each of the Muslim players on Algeria’s national team faces a big decision.
On Monday, Algeria faces Germany in a World Cup round-of-16 knockout match with a chance to continue what has already been a historic run for a team that has never even made it this far before. But Sunday just happens to mark the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month in which all able-bodied Muslims are required to fast — most notably abstaining from food and drink — during daylight hours for 30 straight days.
There are exemptions, however; including one that says someone who is traveling or is on a journey can choose not to fast and make up however many days they missed after Ramadan. There are Muslim athletes on every level who have used that particular exemption to pass on the fast during times of intense training or important competition, and there are some who will fast anyway even in the most grueling circumstances. Either way, it is each Muslim’s choice to make without the compulsion of others.
“It’s clear that our religion is very important for the team, so we will talk about it and see how to go forward,” said Algerian defender Djamel Mesbah to the Associated Press.
Algeria is not the only team that could be significantly impacted by Ramadan during the World Cup, but they are the team that could be impacted the most.
France, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany are known to have between one and a handful of Muslims on their respective rosters, and Nigeria has more than a few. Algeria, however, is a country in which the general population is reportedly over 99 percent Muslim. As far as I know, every player on Algeria’s soccer team is Muslim. That means managing the minutes of players who are fasting and replacing them with the fresh legs of players who are not fasting is not an option for Algeria’s coach, Vahid Halilhodzic.
It should be noted that Algeria’s team captain, defender Madjid Bougherra, plans to observe the fast during the World Cup. And as in every team sport, the captain often sets the tone for the rest of the group.
Dr. Hakim Chalabi, a specialist in sports and fasting who traveled with the Algerian team to Brazil for this exact reason, understands the pros and cons of either choice when it comes to Ramadan.
“We are often asked to urge players not to fast, but oddly, in some cases, there are athletes that get better results during Ramadan because they are fasting and want to,” the doctor told the AP. “It can be a spiritual and psychological aid.”