Muslim Olympians are allowed to replace their fast at a later date
Cyclist Azizulhasni Awang and shooter Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi are among the Muslim athletes taking part in the 2012 London Olympics.
KUALA LUMPUR: When the London 2012 Olympics kicks off on July 27, it will be the second time since the Moscow 1980 Olympics that the games are held during the fasting month.
This has presented the 3,000 Muslim athletes from all over the world with a dilemma of whether they should fast and risk their chances of getting a gold medal, or postpone their fast until after the Ramadan.
The problem is no less apparent within the Malaysian contingent, with cyclist Azizulhasni Awang and his teammate Fatehah Mustapa, as well as pregnant female shooter Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi, among the Muslim participants in the team.
Azizulhasni and Fatehah have opted to postpone their fast until after the games so as not to jeopardise their chances of winning the gold.
National Sports Council director-general Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong said the athletes could make the choice and no rule was imposed on them where fasting was concerned. "It is up to them if they want to fast during the Olympics.
"But from a medical point of view, they have to make sure they have enough food, liquids and necessary supplements.
"They are allowed to eat until around 5am, so it is not too bad, as long as they heed medical advice," he said when contacted yesterday.
Zolkples said Islam allowed for sportsmen to replace their fast at a later time in such cases. "This is not new and doesn't only affect us. Arab countries also practise it and we follow the same concept."
Meanwhile, religious scholars are divided on whether fasting should be made obligatory for athletes under these circumstances.
Perak mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria said they should postpone it as they are competing for the nation's honour.
"If they risk their chances of winning, they may be accused of not cooperating and may even be boycotted, so postponing is necessary," he said.
Former Perlis mufti Prof Madya Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said the fast was not obligatory on the Malaysian athletes as they were considered musafir (travellers).
"According to syariah, they are long-distance travellers and are exempted from fasting during that period," he said when contacted.
However, international scholars took a different view. A CNN report cited a religious figurehead saying that the fast was obligatory for athletes, regardless of how it would affect their performance.
"Taking part in sports is not a requirement in Islam. Players become athletes by choice. "This is an optional activity and it does not allow them to break their fast," he was quoted as saying.
The International Olympic Committee had acknowledged that the games would present difficulties for those who practised certain religions as it was a coming together of people of various beliefs.
According to organisers in London, athletes observing Ramadan would be able to order break-of-fast packs that included water, nutritional bars and fruit.
Dining facilities at the Olympic Village will be open 24 hours a day.