To be tremendously fit is a must for all professional footballers: a demand that leads some Muslim players to forgo the duty of fasting during Ramadan, preferring to fulfill their obligation when the football season ends. However, for Sevilla’s Freddie Kanoute, this is not the case.
The former Tottenham Hotspur striker believes it is possible for a modern footballer to remain in peak physical condition during the holy month.
The likes of Kanoute, along with Real Madrid's Mahamadou Diarra, Lassana Diarra, and Karim Benzema, are the talk of football world as doctors work around the clock to formulate a routine in order to keep them hydrated during the fasting process.
And as Spanish tabloids splash headlines about the fasting month and debates rage about whether players should even be allowed to fast and play during Ramadan - Kanoute insists he just wants to get on with it.
“I try to respect my faith and follow it as best I can,” Kanoute told Goal.com.
“It is sometimes harder to keep the fast because here in the south of Spain it is very hot, but I can do it, thank God.
“There are many Muslim footballers who people just do not know about in England in Spain, France and in many other leagues too. But having faith and practicing Ramadan is not something they wish to tell the world about.
“Personally, having faith helps my football and football helps me to be healthy and strengthens me. There is no conflict because people who know about Islam, they know that fasting empowers and does not weaken the Muslim.”
While Barcelona's fans are wondering if the likes of Eric Abidal, Seydou Keita and Yaya Toure - all Muslims - will be fasting, Real Madrid fans know of the importance their Muslim players - especially Mahamadou Diarra - place in their religion and his traditions.
“Every coach has respected my decision,” says Diarra on his Real Madrid profile page.
“They are difficult days during which one needs to eat, but it only lasts one month. I have another ten to play well.”
The Sevilla and Real Madrid players stance on Ramadan is shared by eminent specialist - Doctor Yacine Zerguni, a member of the FIFA and CAF Sports Medical Committees.
Zerguni collaborated with F-marc, the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre, in a study on the effects of observing Ramadan for Muslim players: two professional football clubs in Algeria agreed to undergo biological, clinical and psychological tests before, during and after the month of Ramadan.
The study constituted a world first in this particular area and formed the foundations for scientific analysis of the potential impact of Ramadan on player performance.
“This month of physical and mental self discipline, which must also be free from any unhealthy or aggressive behaviour,” Zerguni told Goal.com, when asked if Ramadan was compatible with the practice of top-level football.
“Ramadan is intended be a period of internal purification and meditation; a period of regeneration. It is far from harmful. Indeed, the psychological study of the personality formed an integral part of our research project.
"Ramadan is intended be a period of internal purification and meditation; a period of regeneration. It is far from harmful."
“And although many players who were tested could not adapt to playing whilst fasting, one has to remember that it is highly likely that the effects of Ramadan are also linked to the spiritual qualities and physical capabilities of each athlete.
“Therefore certain players who continuously observe Ramadan when playing: their body can adapt because they are used to it - but many players can get tired. Players will have to work on effective pre- and post-match routines that will help them conserve energy and strength.”
Both Mahamadou Diarra and Kanoute place particular emphasis on the charity work during Ramadan. They donate a large portion of their earnings to charities in Mali with the hope of building a better future for their fellow citizens.
For Kanoute, a chance to “make a difference during Ramadan” is something very close to his heart.
“During Ramadan I give my all for my club and try not to let my team-mates and the fans down," he continued. "Everyone here has been very good to me and they understand. They also understand that during Ramadan you have a chance to reach out to those in need.
“For me, my charity is very important. I wanted to help with charity work for some time and a few years ago I went ahead with it and The Mali Children’s Village cares for orphaned and vulnerable children. There is a very big need to work with children here, especially orphans.
“My father was born a Muslim but as an orphan, he didn’t really know a lot about it, but he did try to teach me a few things. Children are our future and we should always try to ensure they are safe and have a good upbringing.”
Mohammed Bhana, Goal.com
For more information on Freddie Kanoute's charity, head to www.developmenttrust.com