Ramadan and the 2012 Olympics
September 23, 2011 2 Comments
When it was revealed back in 2006 that the 2012 Olympic Games would take place in London during the period of Ramadan, there were strong criticisms aimed at Olympics organisers from a number of Muslim groups from around the World. Massoud Shadjared, Chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said ‘This is going to disadvantage the athletes and alienate the Asian communities by saying they don’t matter. It’s not only going to affect the participants, it’s going to affect all the people who want to watch the Games.’
In 2010, the New Statesman published an article posing the question ‘Is Ramadan a threat to Muslim success at London 2012.’ Joanna Manning-Cooper, spokeswoman for the London 2012 Olympic Games, seems to think not, having stated that ‘we have always believed that we could find ways to accommodate it.’
Ramadan is the ninth, and the most holy, month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the five Pillars of Islam, and during this period Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn to dusk. Muslims fast for the sake of Allah, and to teach themselves about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to Allah.
The dates of Ramadan in 2012 are from the 21st of July to August the 20th, which coincides with the Olympic Games which takes place between the 27th of July and the 12th of August. The 2012 Paralympics runs from the 29th of August until the 9th of September. Whilst the dates of the Olympics were designed to fall into the traditional six-week’s summer holidays in the UK in order to make it easier to find the required number of volunteers, the clash with Ramadan is proving a difficult problem for those athletes and support staff who will be directly affected during this period.
Around a quarter of the total number of athletes competing in the 2004 Athens Olympics were from predominantly Muslim countries, and it is estimated that there could be in excess of 3000 athletes observing the period of Ramadan during the 2012 Olympics. Not only are eating and drinking affected, but sleeping and training schedules also have to be fitted around the religious commitments during this period of time.
In their paper in this month’s CJSM, Brisswalter and colleagues assessed the effect of intermittent fasting during Ramadan on 5000m running performance in 18 well-trained middle-distance runners and concluded that their results suggested that Ramadan changes in muscular performance and oxygen kinetics could indeed adversely affect performance during middle-distance events. With many middle and long-distance runners being Muslims from North Africa, the potential for underperformance might seem to be significant amongst those competitors who are observing the period of Ramadan during competition.
The available evidence suggests that performance effects are likely to be variable according to environmental conditions, the length of fasting, and the time of day in which the event is occurring, together with the length and type of event in which the athlete is competing. For example, Chaouachi and colleagues assessed the effect of Ramadan intermittent fasting on aerobic and anaerobic performance and perception of fatigue in male elite judo athletes and concluded that fasting had little adverse effect on these parameters during very short duration sprinting and jumping test performance in this group.
It is likely that the London 2012 organisers have learned from the scheduling during the 2010 Youth Olympic Games which also took place during the period of Ramadan that year.
For those wishing to read more on the subject of Ramadan and issues related to perparation and participation in athletic competition, a series of papers was published in the Youth Olympic Games edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which included some advice on nutritional strategies during the Ramadan period for athletes. In addition, the International Association of Athletics Federations have produced a booklet on eating and exercise during Ramadan written in both French and English which is well worth a read.
CJSM would like to hear of your strategies and planning for Muslim athletes competing during Ramadan in the 2012 Olympics.
(Image of Ramadan lanterns in Egypt by B. Simpson )