PtG Comment 27.08.2010

Olympic outcry during Ramadan?

Last Sunday Ali Karimi - aka Asia's Maradona – was fired from the Tehran team Steel Azin FC for not fasting during Ramadan. Karimi is no ‘nobody’ in Iran. He is the second most merited on the national team, third on the top scorer list and was voted Asia's best player in Iran in 2004.

Yet he was fired, but was reinstated this week after accepting a £24.000 fine. Such an uncompromising attitude toward those who violate the rules set during Ramadan can have major consequences for the London Olympics in 2012 since the Olympics take place at the time of the Ramadan.

New opening hours

That the Olympics take place during Ramadan must be embarrassing for Sebastian Coe, who heads the London Organising Committee, since he sold the Games as a helping hand to Britain's ethnic minorities. The London Olympics will be held in the east end of London where many inhabitants have minority backgrounds, including Muslim. It is expected that over 3000 athletes will be Muslims as well as hundreds of thousands of spectators will be. They will need to make an active choice on whether they want to break the regular rules or not.   Although some practitioners argue that they become stronger by fasting during Ramadan - in part because they come closer to God - there is little doubt that a long-distance runner who will run the 10,000 meters in the afternoon without having had neither wet nor dry since the sun rose will perform worse than if he was eating and drinking properly. What is the solution to this problem?  The solution can be found both among the participants in the Olympics and with the organizers. Participants can either choose to follow the regular rule and hope that it does not degrade their performance, withdraw from the competition or violate the fixed rules and take the consequences of it. None of these choices are optimal. In this context it is not only interesting to look at Muslim countries' protests against the organizers of the Olympics, but also the discrimination between liberal Muslim countries and the more conservative countries. Or between Muslim countries and Muslims in countries that are not Muslim. Are the consequences for breaching the fast greater for delegates from Iran and Saudi Arabia than for those from Turkey and Britain?   There have never been talks of moving the Olympics because of Ramadan. Organizers can limit the problems associated with Ramadan by scheduling the hardest races to early mornings or late nights. Then the participant will be able to eat right before they are competing. This has been tried in this year's Youth Olympics in Singapore and is said to have been successful, although it is not optimal. TV broadcasts govern much of what happens on the grounds and I doubt that an American audience sit up at night because you have moved the women's football match between Iran and the United States because Olympic organizers want them to eat well before the match. Rather the contrary - lack of food can be a competitive advantage - for the U.S., of course.  One of the UK's largest golden hopes at the London Olympics - Mo Farah – who won the European Championship gold in both 5000 and 10,000 meters this year - has said that he will postpone Ramadan. He takes up fasting at a later time. There are exceptions for fasting; for example if you involuntary have to break the fast or if you are at war. I wonder if the Olympics also will be considered as a basis for exception as we approach the summer of 2012? I'm willing to bet on it. I also bet that McDonald's keeps open at night during the Games - to make up for the poor demand from Muslim spectators during the day...

This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' on August 25 2010. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on