Ramadan Observance Comes With Cost For Muslim Olympians

Ramadan is a holy month to observant Muslims, and one that calls upon the faithful to make significant sacrifice in the form of fasting. Muslims are not permitted to eat or drink from sun up, to sun down during the month that began Thursday. The 2012 London Olympics run from July 27-Aug. 12. The last time the Olympics coincided with Ramadan was 1980.

For obvious reasons, high-level athletic performance and fasting do not necessarily go hand in hand. Many athletes in training consume high-levels of calories to maintain their rigorous training schedules. USA Today reports that more than 3,000 Muslims will compete in the summer Olympics in London. Some will fast, some will not.

Suleiman Nyambui of Tanzania, fasted. Nyambui, a silver medalist in the 1980 summer games, took home the top prize in the 5000 meters despite observing the fast.

“Once you decide to do something, Allah is behind you,” Nyambui said.

But some athletes this year are saying that they simply cannot adhere to the fast while representing their countries well.

“I could not fast. I need all that stuff, like protein, carbs and minerals,” Egyptian kayaker Mustafa Saied was quoted by the Washington Post. “I can do it after Ramadan and Allah will accept it because there was an important reason.”

The Washington Post added that Islamic tenets do allow for exemptions for those who are traveling or sick, and some Muslim authorities have extended those exemptions to their athletes competing in the London Olympics. The High Egyptian Islamic Council, for example, issued an edict that their athletes and coaches are permitted not to fast during the Olympics.

Others cite the exemption for travelers, a those away from home during the games would qualify. However, most indicate they will undertake a similar period of fasting once they are finished competing.

For its part, London is ready. Event organizers will be offering “fast-breaking packs” that will include water, fruit and energy bars. The cafeteria in the Olympic Village also carries halal meals.

Ramadan ends August 19.