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Can Football dictate one’s religion?

Jade Gagné

Sports Editor


Via Getty Images


The President of the French Football Federation, Philippe Diallo, and the federation itself have recently created controversy in France regarding their recent Ramadan policy. This new rule explains that team meetings, group sessions, and training sessions will not be modified regarding any player’s religion. Therefore, Muslim players at the training camps are not permitted to fast, and as the Islamic holy month ends, tensions are rising among athletes, coaches, and fans all over the world.


“There is no stigmatization of anyone, there is absolute respect for everyone’s convictions. But when we are in the French team, we must respect a framework.”, said Diallo in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro.


France is known for their legal principle of laïcité, which was created to protect the freedom of conscience and equality of citizens by discouraging any religious involvement or influence in government affairs and policy and vice versa. Having this principle made it easier for the FFF to make their decisions on the ban of Ramadan.

 

As far as the month goes, Diallo keeps on defending the choice of ruling out their players to do any religious practice by explaining that it’s simply a “principle of neutrality” and it is not an anti-Islamic act. In the same interview with Le Figaro, the federation's president defends his decision by referring to Article 1 of the federation’s founding statute. This article forbids any speech or display of a political, ideological, religious, or trade union nature in the federation’s competitions and events. If this is not respected, it can end up in a disciplinary or criminal proceeding. During a different press conference, he carried on with the argument that the “Muslim authority said that it was perfectly compatible with practicing high-level sport to suspend one’s fast.” The players have then no other choice but to respect the FFF’s rules.


“For a few years, Ramadan always happened after my basketball season, or before the championship. When those months happened, I was lucky enough to have coaches that would allow me to fast. When they weren’t necessarily fine with it, I still had the final decision. I never asked [myself]: ‘What if they ban fasting in the sport?,’” explained an anonymous national African/French athlete.


Unfortunately, this change in the Federation also caused the loss of a player. On March 21st, 2024, ESPN reported that the midfielder Mahamadou Diawara had left the French men’s squad “U19” (French National under 19 squad) after he was seen practicing in his old club in Lyon, his hometown. He had been on the team since 2023, but by refusing to accept this anti-Ramadan rule, Mahamadou Diawara got expelled.

“Concerning the Football Federation banning fasting, I am completely against it. I think there’s a lack of open-mindedness. When you believe, you know why you practice Ramadan, and we are conditioned to do it, especially when we’re professionals, we are psychologically conditioned for it. You must adapt and make a specific meal plan, especially hydrating yourself to avoid any injuries. The club needs to trust its athletes during this small journey, which is a month per year. Different countries accept Ramadan, so why not the FFF?,” stated the athlete.


This did not only spark reactions among players but also from other French team managers like Habib Beye. The manager of the team Red Star called this settlement a “religious discrimination” that was made and created to strike at Muslim players directly.

“I call this religious discrimination and we cannot act like this. Because if we do it for one religion, we must do it for all religions, and this is not the case today. We are divided when we should be united around this logic of religion and sharing,” voiced Beye in his post-game press conference transcribed by L’Equipe.

In 2021, during a match of Chelsea vs Madrid, N’Golo Kante (who was playing for Chelsea) covered 12km/h on the pitch and helped his team win with a final score of 2-0, all while also fasting. Kante even received the title of man of the match. He is one of the players who showed the public how Ramadan does not change a player’s capability to make a good performance.


Alongside other public reactions, the “Everything is Football” podcast posted on X by @EiFSoccer states: “You’ll see how quickly France changes its ways once they realize they can’t field on a good national team without multiple dual citizen French/African athletes. Muslim players have been and will continue to be a vital part of France’s success. Let them practice Ramadan in peace.”


Last year, the same Federation banned the right for their women players to wear Hijabs, this year they banned Ramadan completely. Are those the right decisions, or is this whole situation only purely just Football?

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