What does religion have to do with football?

Published: July 3, 2014
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Algerian fans should support and respect the players, as they played an honourable game and did their best. Their religious convictions should not be even part of such discussions. PHOTO: REUTERS

The World Cup 2014 is about to reach its final stages, with the quarterfinals matches starting from Friday, July 4. The knockout rounds saw major teams facing a tough challenge against underdog teams and five out of eight matches went into extra-time so that a winner could be decided. This highlights the intensity of these matches.

The clash between the mighty Germans and the dark horses, Algeria, also went onto extra time. Andrea Schurrle scored in the opening minutes of the extra time, to give Germany an edge over the highly impressive Algerian side. Mesut Ozil doubled Germany’s lead in the 119th minutes and two minutes later, A Djabou scored a consolation goal for the Algerians. The match ended at 2-1, with Germany advancing to the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

Throughout the game, the Algerians proved to be tough competition for Germany, seeing how the match ended up going into extra-time. However, reports have emerged that blame for Algeria’s loss is being attributed to the fact that the players were fasting during the match. The game kicked off less than an hour before sunset and the players were only able to break their fast late into the first half of the match. The Algerian coach and players have all categorically stated that fasting had nothing to do with the loss.

Would that somehow justify their loss to the media? What business did the media have in asking the players questions as personal as whether or not they performed their religious duties that day or not.

It baffles me as to how people can twist and turn things around to make controversies and scandals out of absolutely nothing.  Yes, football may be a demanding game that requires complete mental and physical fitness, but take a look at the highlights of the match. Do the conditions look out of the ordinary? In my opinion, the Algerian side delivered a great performance and belittling their efforts by blaming the loss on the fact that some players were fasting is absurd.

Germany was never going to be an easy opponent, I think all of us knew that, and despite that, Algeria gave them a run for their money.

The Algerians played on counter-attacks, running off-the-ball more often, that much is true. But that could have been the case with any team, and due to any reason. What if Germany had lost? Would Ramazan have been given any thought at all? For all we know, the loss could have been largely because of the lack of strategy amongst the defenders of the team. After all, it was because of the defenders that Ozil was able to score the second goal. You cannot blame the whole team for an error a couple of players made, that too at the very end of the game.

Many are saying that because Ozil did not fast during the match, he was able to perform better. Well, Ozil wasn’t fasting in any of the matches he played earlier either, yet he wasn’t able to score a single goal – I wonder what we can blame that on.

Talks about Muslim players fasting during the World Cup were already abundant amongst different media organisation. I am sure it is natural for media houses to jump to the conclusion that any defeat faced by a Muslim team, or players, is due to their religious beliefs. And that is exactly what happened in Algeria’s case.

The Algerians put up a truly nail-biting fight against Germany. And dismissing their efforts and playing the blame game is unfair. Many people took to Twitter to show their support for the North African team.

My point is – FIFA is about football and nothing else. Corrupting the game by turning it into a religious debate is in very bad taste and should not have happened to begin with. The fact that we can bring religion into every sphere of our life is the problem. This discussion of whether Ramazan had anything to do with it is redundant and puts a lot of pressure on the players. Those observing a fast would be intimidated into not fasting and those not observing a fast would be blamed for any loss. The matter of religion is private and has nothing to do with anyone else in the world. I don’t know when we will start understanding that.

It is time that we leave such frivolous ideas behind and look forward to the upcoming quarterfinals. Hopefully none of these matches will end up being persecuted at the hands of the media and fans again.

Saif Ali Jafri

Saif Ali Jafri

A Finance student at the Institute of Business Management, Saif is a football fanatic and a food lover. He tweets as @saif_ajafri (twitter.com/saif_ajafri)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Prashant

    Algeria played stupendously well. There is nothing wrong if the players were observing fast out of their own will. Eventually, what matters is they went into the match as underdogs and made the Germans work hard for their victory. I salute the Algerians for putting up such a valiant show.Recommend

  • Riaz Ahmed

    Football is an intense game which requires lot of running…An average footballers runs around 8 to 10km in space of 90 minutes and loses 4kg due to sweat and burning calories….

    World cup occurs once every 4 years and for some teams like Algeria,its once a lifetime for many players in their short career…World cup is one of the best way to showcase ur country to the world..

    Its not yet fully determined if fasting can reduce your performance…If u skip fasting for one day,you can always compensate by fasting on another day…

    Most of the muslims from non-muslim countries like Benzema,ozil,Toure arent fasting..its only the players from muslim countries who are fasting fearing any backlash from their countrymen…

    Its time we stopped putting footballers into pressure by our moral policing mediaRecommend

  • KlingOn2K

    In the middle of the greatest sporting event, they could have been more flexible. There is no doubt that this ‘fasting’ impaired their ability to keep pace with the Germans.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Why so touchy? Media comments on everything in the public domain – players’ personal lives, their likes and dislikes, their lifestyle as well as their beliefs – and if the Algerians were able to play so well after fasting all day, it is worthy of respect, and should be appreciated. Stop looking under every rock for a chance to play the victim.Recommend

  • Gingo

    So now after cricket, Football too is all set to get corrupted by religion.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    You guys getting so oversensitive about fasting is the exact reason why we are having so many issues in the world. Get over it.Recommend

  • mimi sur

    “The Algerian coach and players have all categorically stated that fasting had nothing to do with the loss.” – They only attached it to fasting , but you attached it to religion .Recommend

  • Sami

    Unfortunately dragging religion into everything is a Norm. It is not about Ramadan but just look around and you will see that sometimes Religion has become the Only factor to judge someone otherwise you are a loser. In Islamic countries Religion is not a personal matter but a true public matter and every person will poke into the personal life and heart of others and will determine who is more pious than others.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Either don’t come on national duty which requires your optimum physical condition and fitness or participate without any restrictions.

    There is no room for both at the same time! If you do want to fast then don’t play. Fulfilling your religious obligations at the expense of letting once in a lifetime chance go away will be very selfish as a representative of your country. But if fasting is your priority which is commendable, then you shouldn’t be playing.

    You don’t need a survey/research to determine if fasting did play a part. You need to be in your optimum state, period.

    @Author, you get all overly sensitive when media comments and yet, you say why the media comments? Also, it is OK to take in applause for putting up such a fight whilst fasting but when people point towards the other side, you get all upset. Hypocrite(?) don’t you think?Recommend

  • azad sundar

    When you people can create nation on the basis of a religion be it pakistan or Iran or Saudi or the latest one ISIS , what is wrong with this statement ? They didn’t blame any religion , they blamed the fasting only and fasting is not limited to this “religion of peace” only . Every religion believes in fasting . Isn’t it ?Recommend

  • Critical

    What does football has to do with religion????

    For some people,EVERYTHING

    I’m a avid football fan and I follow many facebook pages about football…But I’ve seen that people seem to look at football and footballers over the prism of religion…Some of them even doctor photos or make fake quotes just to put religion into football…

    P.S. Mods..please publish all these images as its so relevant to the titleRecommend

  • abhi

    I didn’t get the point of this blog! If some people think fasting affects the performance what is wrong in that?Recommend

  • JayMankind

    Algerian players fasted and they paid the price. End of story. Nobody need crib over it. I am sure the players realized that they would not be able to perform at their highest level. They were prepared for defeat. So let’s move on.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    To say that Algerians lost due to fasting, is wrong;but it’s not a big deal if some people think so. And as far appreciating them for playing so well despite fasting; I think they deserve it. I am sorry if it offends you, but you perhaps need to learn to accept different opinions Recommend