There was only one Muslim footballer when the Premiere League began in 1992. Spanish midfielder Nayim played for Tottenham. However, there are now 40 Muslim footballers in England’s top division, and they are having a significant effect on the culture of the sport.
A particularly noticeable impact was illustrated on February 5th, 2012 during the match between Newcastle United and Aston Villa at St. James’ Park. After half an hour into the game, Demba Ba scored for the home team. He ran over to the corner flag. Senegalese joined him, and the two Muslims dropped to their knees in prayer.
The increase in the number of Muslim players is the result of internationalization of football.
Football scouts have widened their scope when searching for new talented players. Recruiting players from different backgrounds and cultures have led to the Premiere League becoming a more diverse league.
The Premiere League has players from all over the world competing. Young players who originate from remote villages of West Africa or struggling council estates from Paris have become global superstars.
Such players have shot to stardom and have become wealthy through playing for English clubs. However, it is the players’ cultural identities, their Islamic faith and home roots that keep them grounded and guide them onto the right path when times get difficult.
The managers of clubs demonstrate a genuine willingness to try to understand and accommodate the religious requirements of their players.
All Muslim players are given the option of halal food and the choice to shower separately from the rest of their team. They are also allocated a particular place and time to pray.
Up until recently, a bottle of champagne was awarded to all Premiere League players that win the man of the match.
However, alcohol is forbidden for Muslims. It was only when Yaya Toure (Manchester City Midfielder) politely refused to accept his award during on television show because of his religion, that competition officials were forced to change the system.
The tradition of awarding champagne has fizzled out, and all winning players now receive a small trophy instead.
Football players themselves are also demonstrating more consideration for their peer’s religion. After Liverpool won the League Cup final in 2012, players ensured that they moved the clothes of their team doctor, who is a devoted Muslim, out of the room before they celebrated so that the alcohol wasn’t sprayed over them.
Ramadan is a particularly difficult time for footballers. It’s incredibly difficult for a footballer to fast for up to 18 hours a day and still perform at their best. While some footballers fast every day, others only fast on days that they don’t have a match. It can cause difficulties for the team and player. Abou Diaby, an Arsenal player, aged 27 explained how his club would prefer it if he didn’t fast but they show understanding about how important fasting is for him, and they try to make things as easy as possible.
Although there are still some issues that need work, such as Muslim’s wearing t-shirts with betting sponsors on, the evidence above illustrates that the football world is starting to become aware of other cultures and their needs.