Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and a time when Muslims all over the world fast from sunrise to sunset.
Riz Rehman is an education advisor within the PFA’s education department and a practising Muslim. Starting his footballing career at Brentford as a youth, Riz spent seven years with the team and had a short spell as a professional before injury ruled him out of the game. Here he talks to us about the impact Ramadan has on the sport.
Hi Riz, how did you get involved with the PFA?
I was offered a professional contract at Brentford after breaking my leg in my first year as a scholar, but my leg still hadn’t fully recovered so unfortunately I had to leave that side of the game. With the PFA’s support, I decided to go to university and also study for my UEFA B license. I have worked in football since I graduated, and now I work in the education department at the PFA as an education advisor. We work with clubs and community trusts to set up learning centres for scholars and first team players, to enhance their education and promote learning in the workplace.
Did you fast during Ramadan when you were a player?
As a player I personally didn’t fast during match days but would during the week, apart from a day before a game. The days you miss can be made up later - a day for a day.
I know players who will observe all fasts and still comment that they feel energetic. My brother, Zesh, who plays for KC Southern in Hong Kong, is currently on international duty with Pakistan and he said the whole team is fasting whilst travelling and doing double sessions.
When he played in Malaysia, many players were Muslim and - being a Muslim country - the team would train in the evenings during Ramadan to cater for the players; that’s normal in Asia. In England, it’s a bit different but we can produce bespoke training programmes to ensure players are performing at peak levels.
Do you think clubs need to make allowances for players who are observing Ramadan?
It’s quite lucky Ramadan fell at the back end of the season this year, so I don’t think many people paid much attention to it. However, as Islam follows the lunar calendar, Ramadan moves back ten days or so every year, which means from next season it will fall during the football calendar, and will continue to do so for the next 27/28 years.
I spoke with with Jim Hicks, the director of Coaching at the PFA, to say that we need to make sure our future coaches are aware of this and Jim made special arrangements on the course for me to deliver my presentation, which I thought was brilliant. It’s important that the coaches have a basic knowledge and understanding of the religious needs of players during that period and how to manage them.
What plans do the PFA have in place?
Two weeks ago, I delivered a workshop about Ramadan to coaches on the PFA UEFA B course at the West Ham Academy training ground. The workshop was to increase their knowledge and understanding, as well as better equip them when working with Muslim players during this period. I shared little things, like making them aware of important prayers through the days and nights, including the Friday congregation pray (Jummah) at the Mosque.
I regularly see Kante, Freddie Kanoute and Eddie Newton on Fridays at my mosque, they are all great role models.
I also talked about considering disruptive sleep patterns because players will be up at 3am to start their fasts, and will be fasting for around 18 hours. It’s important for medical staff and sports scientists to create a bespoke training programme during Ramadan to counteract the dehydration and low energy levels Muslim players will potentially have while fasting.
When the Premier League first started, Nayim – who played for Tottenham - was the only Muslim player, but now most people could name a couple of players at every club. Essentially, the coaches on our PFA courses will become the future influencers in the game and I think it’s important for them to have that basic understanding, not just when working in the professional game but across all levels, including the foundation and youth phase.
How will you celebrate Eid this year?
Eid actually lasts for three days. On the first day, I’ll go to the mosque in the morning (7am) for Eid parayers with my dad and then come back home, have some nice food and relax with my family. Similar to Christmas, Eid is about spending quality time with your loved ones. It’s also nice to get messages from players I work with and colleagues at the PFA wishing me a happy ‘Eid Mubarak’.
The PFA wishes all our members and all those celebrating a wonderful time during Eid this year. Eid Mubarak!