It is believed a football game earlier this week was the first ever in Premier League history to pause in accordance with Ramadan.
Players from Leicester City and Crystal Palace came together in the 35th minute of the Premier League game following a pre-match agreement between the teams to pause play at the moment of sundown to mark Iftar.
Referee Graham Scott permitted a pause in play while palace goalkeeper Vincente Guaita had possession to let Leicester’s Wesley Fofana take on an energy drink. Palace’s Cheikhou Kouyate wass also fasting as part of Ramadan and the in-game stoppage allowed him to take onboard an energy gel.
After the game, Fofana tweeted his appreciation. He thanked the Premier League, Crystal Palace Football Club and their goalkeeper, Vicente Guaita, as well as his teammates for allowing him: “To break my fast tonight in the middle of the game. That’s what makes football wonderful”.
Fofana has managed to continue playing during the fasting period and has maintained his high standards despite not taking in any food or drink during daylight hours.
The Leicester/Palace game is believed to be the first Premier League game to be stopped to acknowledge Iftar for players. Last week when playing against West Brom, Fofana was replaced by Marc Albrighton so he could break his fast from the bench.
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers said that he has been protecting Fofana over the period of Ramadan. Mr Rodger’s said: “He’s fine. He’s a young player in the middle of Ramadan, so he’s not eating during the day”.
He added: “’It’s remarkable. If you think of his performance at the weekend in an FA Cup semi-final against West Brom, where he hasn’t eaten all day and then he had first taste of food with 15 minutes to go, and then the same today, with an 8pm kick-off, he’s not eaten all day or drunk and he can still perform to that level”.
Explaining why he substituted Fofana during the West Brom game, Rodgers said: “I’ve worked with lots of players with devotion to their faiths and for a lot of the guys it gives them strength. It was just one where I thought if I could get him off then he could get some food into him on the bench, and just protect him a little bit.”
The Premier League refused to comment on whether the lifting of the fast would be marked during upcoming games but confirmed they are not against the idea.
A spokesperson for the Premier League said: “The pause in the Leicester-Crystal Palace game was as a result of the pre-match captains’ meeting with the referee where it was agreed that a natural pause in play could be used to mark Iftar. It was not for the referee to decide when this should take place, it is more down to on field communications”.
He went on to say the Premier League definitely understand the added difficulties players face when observing Ramadan but were not going to make a firm policy decision on it just yet. He said: “We expect a common-sense approach on a case-by-case basis. If players raise the issue then that is a matter for agreement between the teams before kick-off”.
Earlier this month players in a Turkish football match were seen breaking their fast for Ramadan on the pitch during a stoppage in play after hearing the evening call to prayer at sunset.
In the past players have found creative ways to be able to break their fast after Iftar while matches are being played.
In 2018, during two friendlies in the lead-up to the World Cup, Tunisia’s goalkeeper Mouez Hassen twice went down with an apparent injury at the time when Iftar began, allowing his team-mates to eat and drink.
Writing at the time, Tunisian journalist Souhail Khmira explained the toll that fasting has on the bodies of professional athletes. He said: “It’s physically exhausting. As someone who fasts, let me assure you, we barely get by with daily tasks, let alone an intensive practice schedule: “
Recognising the importance of religious observation Mr Khmira went on to say: “In a way, when they chose to fast, it’s probably because they want to fulfil their duties towards God and get ‘blessed’ or ‘rewarded’ with a good performance”.
The Premier League have played a leading role in supporting the ‘take the knee’ campaign in a powerful and symbolic show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. It is good to see such an important sporting body supporting all their players, working towards an even playing field for all.