DUBAI // The players in the UAE's Olympic team for London 2012 have been granted an exemption from fasting during Ramadan, but will be left to decide for themselves whether to observe their normal rituals over the Holy Month.
Mahdi Ali, the coach, will not force the players to break their fast, even though a senior Muslim cleric has ruled them exempt on account of the travelling involved – rather than the physical exertions of playing – at the Games.
Ramadan is expected to begin on July 20, and will encompass the duration of the Olympics, providing an additional challenge for what Ali estimates to be around 3,000 Muslim participants across all the sports.
"It is like giving someone half a tank of fuel and asking them to compete against someone with a full tank," the coach said.
During his lengthy and highly successful career overseeing UAE age group sides and the Olympic team, Ali has encounter similar issues a number of times.
He once took a UAE Under 19 side to an international competition that started five days after the end of the Holy Month.
The players undertook their usual fast during the build up, and the coach believes it took at least two weeks for their bodies to recover to an optimum level of performance.
He has given the players the choice of whether to fast or not, but hopes they give themselves the best chance to perform to their best, given the magnitude of the competition.
"Playing in the Olympics during Ramadan is not an easy task," Ali said. "You have to be ready for a level of matches which will be the equivalent of playing at the World Cup.
"The players will not be forced to break their fast, but I am sure they will choose to do the right thing. It is not easy to play during fasting."
Ali's impressive spell at the helm of the Olympic team, who qualified undefeated for the Games, could yet earn him the job in charge of the full national team.
However, he is unlikely to be distracted from the task at hand now.
"Even when we were not doing well in terms of results at the beginning, coach Mahdi was always so optimistic," said Yousuf Abdullah, the general secretary of the FA.
"We are proud of what they have done so far and wish them well for the Games."
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE