How European Soccer Made Peace With Fasting During Ramadan

Youseff Chippo had a secret.

A few months into his life as a soccer pro in Europe, Chippo, a Moroccan midfielder, was pushing to prove himself and didn’t want to do anything that might hurt his chances of success. That included revealing he was fasting for Ramadan, a normal practice for the world’s billion Muslims but not in the locker room of Portugal’s F.C. Porto in the winter of 1997.

The team’s double practice sessions — morning and afternoon — were arduous. Taking part while going without food and water from sunup to sundown made things harder. Eventually, after enduring days of dizziness and headaches in silence, Chippo came clean, and the club quickly put together a plan to preserve his energy and his health.

For decades, though, other Muslim players found teams to be less accommodating, at least officially. So in a sport where continuous play and a lack of substitutions offer little opportunity for a mid-game trip to the bench, those players have long relied instead on resourcefulness and improvised solutions to break their fasts: teammates who faked or embellished injuries just after sundown to buy a moment for their Muslim colleagues to rush to the sideline; a few dates or a sugary drink slipped into a hand by a staff member at the appointed hour; trainers rushing out to attend to an injured knee carrying a kit curiously well-stocked with bananas.

But more recently, soccer, which once saw fasting by Muslim players as something to be discouraged or criticized, is actively changing its ways. In a shift that reflects both the increasing prevalence and the soaring value of soccer’s Muslim stars, some of the world’s richest leagues and teams — with one notable exception — have moved to fully embrace Ramadan fasts.

In Europe, that means many Muslim players now benefit from bespoke nutrition plans before and during the monthlong holiday; fast-friendly practice schedules; and even league-approved stoppages in play that let them break their fasts on the field during matches.

Tunisia players eating dates during a match against Turkey in 2018. The team’s coach at the time, Nabil Maâloul, center, said he had asked his goalkeeper to simulate an injury to pause the game.Credit…Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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