London’s Mayor and Culture Secretary are working hard to ensure that the London 2012 Olympics involve all of Britain’s ethnic groups equally. This may be more challenging than they thought, however, as the Olympics fall during the important religious event of Ramadan. Thousands of Muslims who will compete in, work or volunteer at this summer’s Olympic events will be left with the question on whether or not to follow Ramadan in the traditional sense this year.
The timing could not have been more inopportune, but there was no real choice for the LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) to schedule the 2012 Olympics outside the Ramadan period. Being provided a strict window for the Games to take place by the International Olympic Committee and the need to consider aspects such as public transport in London and the availability of volunteers needed, they decided to schedule the Olympics from 27 July to 12 August, which lies in the middle of Ramadan.
The religious fasting period of Ramadan takes place this year from 20 July to 20 August. The period of Ramadan changes by about eleven days every year according to the lunar calendar. The 30 day long period of fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, considered to be a time of worship and closeness with God and therefore one of the most important celebrations for Muslims.
As most Muslims strictly fast from dawn until dusk during this period, the impact of Ramadan on personal and professional spheres must be acknowledged – not only in Arabic countries. The Olympics being a huge multicultural and multi-ethnic event will therefore require cross-cultural sensitivity towards this religious tradition and how it may impact everyone involved in the games.
Influence on Athletes
There are an estimated 3,000 Muslim athletes who may be impacted by Ramadan during the games this year. Fasting during the Olympics is not only inconvenient and challenging, but depending on the type of sport it could deplete an athlete’s liver and muscle glycogen stores and lead to dehydration and a drop in performance.
As Muslim athletes are usually allowed to defer their fasts, many of them are going to postpone the fasting period to maintain the performance they have been working so hard for during the last years. Not all Muslim sportsmen and women will do this, however, especially if not fasting during the holy month is frowned upon in their culture, so it’s important to be conscious of this.
Influence on Staff and Fans
Although the athletes are the ones which are most obviously influenced by the clash of these two important events, we cannot forget about the enormous number of Muslims who will work or volunteer at the Olympics or be watching the games as spectators. Organisers will need to consider the requirements they have for praying and eating during this period and provide the time and space they need to carry out these religious traditions.
What are they doing about it?
In order to meet athletes’ and workers’ Ramadan needs, organisers are putting in place a series of initiatives including:
- Fast-breaking packs with dates and other traditional foods
- Open dining facilities 24 hours a day so that competitors will be able to eat before dawn
- Prayer rooms at every venue with Muslim clerics on hand to assist people
- Large multi-faith centre at the Olympic village in Stratford with a common lounge and specific areas for the five largest faiths
The Olympic Games are a true test of London’s well-known multiculturalism and cross-cultural sensitivity. This great event will determine whether organisers have been able not only to make the most of London and its people but whether they can create an environment where all athletes will be able to have outstanding performances. All of this must be done with minimal frustration and difficulties to the organisers, athletes, volunteers and spectators as well as to the general population of London.
Some may argue that the organisers of the Olympics have made a cultural faux-pas by scheduling them during such an important religious event celebrated around the world. It should instead be considered as a cultural opportunity – a time when we can allow all cultures and traditions to shine in the face of adversity and challenge.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2012