A-Leagues to introduce breaks for players observing Ramadan for first time ever

This season, for the first time ever, the A-Leagues is introducing special in-match pauses to allow players observing Ramadan to break their fast during matches.

For a select few A-Leagues players, the months of March and April come with a unique set of circumstances. 

While training and competing at a professional level comes with its own challenges, those who are practising Muslims have an additional test: during the holy period of Ramadan they abstain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset.

This year, Ramadan falls between Saturday, 9 March and Monday, 8 April, meaning it will occur during Round 19-22 for the Liberty A-League and Rounds 20-23 for the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Fasting can have a direct affect on energy levels and performance for players. Former A-Leagues player Ali Abbas previously told Optus Sport of the increasing physical demands of a month of fasting during daylight hours.

“Training is really tough, especially because you can’t drink water or eat [after training],” Abbas said in an interview.

“Every year, the last 10 days are really difficult because you start losing weight.”

With these circumstances in mind, players have historically worked closely with their club nutritionists to develop meal plans that provide adequate energy and hydration during non-fasting hours. They are also able to better monitor their physical conditions with high performance coaches and medical staff, or adjust training intensity to avoid injury.

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Alongside these supportive approaches, the APL and the PFA have introduced for the first time a new policy that allows players to break their fast during matches.

The policy follows a push from the Australian players’ union to adopt similar policy introduced in global leagues, including the English Premier League and Major League Soccer in the US. 

Should a match be held during the time of sunset, club or match officials may make a request to the Match Commissioner up to 90 minutes before kick-off for a special break to occur to allow players or match officials to break their fast. 

Breaks will go for 90 seconds and occur when the ball is out of play in a neutral position.

For Macarthur forward Ali Auglah, Ramadan is an incredibly sacred period, and fasting is fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims.

“The Holy month of Ramadan stands as the pinnacle of significance for Muslims worldwide, serving as a period of deep reflection across all facets of life,” Auglah explained.

“Within the football community, particularly in Muslim-majority nations, there’s a growing initiative to facilitate the fasting practices of players during this time, recognising the importance of accommodating religious obligations within sports.”

“If during a break I was to eat something, I’ll have some dates and some water.”

Throughout the month, Auglah said he ensured maintenance of his training intensity by consuming “nutritious food and adequate hydration” during sunset and sunrise, while maintaining a “healthy sleeping pattern”.

PFA Co-Chief Executive Beau Busch said that the new policy was vital to safeguard the wellbeing of players, but equally to ensure that players who observe important religious events feel supported in the sport.

“Our feedback from players observing Ramadan in previous seasons was that they were supportive of any new policy that would help them not only during training and preparation, but also during matches,” Busch said.

“Our playing group is representative of the many different backgrounds and faiths and we need to ensure that the workplace environment ensures they feel supported and initiatives such as this are another step forward.”