French Muslim football players banned from breaking their fast

The French Football Federation has been subjected to widespread criticism for imposing a ban on game changes which would allow Muslim players to break their fast during the Holy month of Ramadan.

Muslim players in the French national football team (Les Bleus) including Ibrahima Konate and Paul Pogba, both who achieved international superstar status during the recent World Cup tournament in Qatar, have been informed that matches or play cannot be postponed, delayed or altered in order to allow Muslim footballers to break their fast. An email leaked this week, from the French Football Federation (FFF) to the Federal Commission of Referees (CFA), revealed that such ‘interruptions do not respect the provisions of the Statutes of the FFF’ and are therefore forbidden. The Federation added that whilst it and its bodies  ‘defend the fundamental values of the French Republic and must implement means to prevent any discrimination or infringement of a person’s dignity due to their…political and religious beliefs,’ it is important to recognise that the FFF prohibits any ‘display of a political, ideological, religious, or trade union’ affiliation during its tournaments. The email went on to say:

‘A football field, a stadium, a gymnasium, are not places of political or religious expression, they are places of neutrality where values of sport, such as equality, fraternity, impartiality, learning to respect the referee, oneself and others, must prevail.’

Muslim players had apparently been asked to postpone their adherence to fasting practice during the five days of selection leading up to the EURO 2024 qualifier games against Netherlands on the 24th March and Ireland on March 27th. France beat Netherlands 4 nil and Ireland 1 nil.  

The move by the French Football Federation has been contrasted with the position adopted by the English Football League and the Premier League who have been issued with guidance that allows players to break their fast during games. This allows Muslim star players such as Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante who are playing for Premier league teams, to make a natural pause in their play once the sun has set, in order to consume food and drink and where appropriate, energy gels or supplements (in accordance with the limitations of their faith). Officials have been asked to identify players who are likely to be fasting ahead of games and to make adequate arrangements so that their needs can be fully respected – which accepts that pauses to play may be a natural consequence.    

Social Media platforms were awash with comments critiscising France’s position on the issue, with high profile players such as Lucas Digne who plays for the Premier League team Aston Villa as well as his French national team, posting a tweet which hinted that the French Football Federation was behind the times and living in the past. His tweet showed ‘2023’ adjacent to three facepalm emojis.

Abdoulaye Doucoure, the midfield player for Everton declared the Premier League to be ‘the best league for Muslims to be in’.

This weekend it was reported that in Italy, where the Italian Football Federation operates a similar position to the FFF in France, Luca Ranieri apparently feigned an injury on Saturday during the Inter Milan vs Fiorentina game in order to enable his Muslim teammate Sofyan Amrabat, to break fast. He was seen on camera, as network cameras deliberately turned to him and viewed him eating what appeared to be a banana while Ranieri lay prostrate on the ground.

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