The ‘gamechanging’ charter for Muslim athletes

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June 25, 2021
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    When Paul Pogba recently removed a bottle of Heineken from the table at a news conference, it drew widespread attention.

    Drinking, promoting or advertising alcohol is forbidden in Islam and as a devout Muslim, Pogba may have felt the need to distance himself from the situation, but should he have been put in that position in the first place?

    "The recent example of Paul Pogba hiding the beer bottle highlights the need for education," says Ebadur Rahman, founder and chief executive of Nujum Sports.external-link

    Saturday sees the official launch of a historic "first of its kind" Muslim athletes' charter – an idea devised by Rahman, who previously worked for the Football Association.

    The charter seeks to "challenge organisations" to make progress in supporting Muslim sportsmen and women, with signatories pledging to "create positive change".

    There are 10 points contained within the charter, such as non-consumption of alcohol, including during celebrations, the provision of appropriate places to pray, halal food, and being allowed to fast in Ramadan.

    "Having worked in sport, I am well aware of the difficulties being able to practice my religion," Rahman told BBC Sport.

    "After speaking extensively to athletes and clubs, we felt it was the right time to have a Muslim athlete charter in place in the UK. We believe it is the first and only one of its kind.

    "Clubs and organisations are joining a positive movement of solidarity, equality and recognition of the contribution Muslims make at their respective clubs and teams."

    Premier League clubs endorse 'exciting' charter

    Halil Dervisoglu and Gareth BaleBrentford forward Halil Dervisoglu featured for Turkey at the European Championship

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    Nujum calculates there are about 250 Muslim players in the first teams and academies across the top four leagues of English football.

    Of these, Manchester United's Pogba, Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, and Chelsea's Champions League-winning N'Golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger are the highest-profile players.

    Even before its release, five Premier League clubs and a further 15 from the EFL have pledged to support the charter.

    Campaigners Kick it Out and the Football Supporters' Association have also given their backing.

    A Brentford spokesman told BBC Sport: "Muslims are the second largest faith community in the UK and the fastest growing, with around 70 Muslim players at Premier League clubs.

    "Assisting clubs to support those players to be themselves both at home and at work is invaluable. This charter and the support that goes with it is something that is needed and will be welcomed by clubs."

    A Watford spokesperson said the club were "excited" at continuing their partnership with Nujum, adding: "We feel this charter will be a huge benefit to us in the support our first team, women's team and academy players."

    'A gamechanger'

    Ayoub Assal and Hawa CissokoAyoub Assal and Hawa Cissoko both featured 16 times for their clubs last season

    Nujum supports athletes with day-to-day practical requirements as well as on a spiritual basis, and individuals are provided access to Islamic scholars for any questions or assistance needed on their faith.

    The organisation also sent out gift packs to all 92 clubs during Ramadan, with recipient Ayoub Assal – a 19-year-old midfielder at League One side AFC Wimbledon – calling the charter "a gamechanger".

    Assal, who scored four goals in 16 first-team games during his breakthrough campaign last term, told BBC Sport: "Being a Muslim, your lifestyle is different. You have obligations like the five daily prayers within a certain time frame, and there are some things you can't do like going out to drink.

    "The charter will be extremely helpful because it guarantees Muslim athletes what their rights are. They will get halal food, they don't have to think twice about going to the canteen and wondering what to eat, which is very important.

    "Religion for us is very important, it is bigger than this world that we live in."

    West Ham midfielder Hawa Cissoko says she has been fully supported in her time at a club where she is "loved", but feels "more happy and more strong" at being empowered by the charter.

    "I feel now I have a community that supports me, I don't feel alone," she told BBC Sport.

    "Through Nujum I found a friend in jockey Khadijah Mellah, and it is helpful to know there are a lot of Muslim athletes that we can share our experiences with. It is nice to speak with people on how they live and how they feel.

    "Being a Muslim you have to send the right message to the people. I am representing everyone. When I am in the changing room, they don't see me – they see all Muslims.

    "I have to be a good girl all the time and be the best I can be."

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