French Football Federation faces backlash after U19 player leaves squad over fasting rule

Mahamadou Diawara returns to club Lyon after reportedly feeling uncomfortable about the new rule

Mahamadou Diawara, left, departed the France Under-19 squad over the rule to bar Muslim players from observing Ramadan while on international duty. AFP
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The French Football Federation is facing backlash after a controversial rule to bar Muslim players from observing Ramadan while on international duty led to an Under-19 player removing himself from the squad.

The FFF introduced what it calls a "general framework", applicable to all levels of the national team from Under-16 to the senior squad, that ordered training sessions, meals and matches not to be rescheduled to accommodate Ramadan. Muslim players called up to the France national team have been asked to reschedule their fasting for after the international break.

The federation said its decision was in line with the French concept of "laicite", the constitutional principle of secularism in France, commonly interpreted as the separation of civil society and religious society.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. For athletes, that can often mean breaking fast in the middle of training or matches – as was seen during a German Bundesliga in 2022 when the referee paused play to allow Moussa Niakhate to break his fast.

An FFF representative said that the rule has generally been received well, saying: “On the whole, apart from one or two moments of friction, we haven’t had any deadlocks. Since we put this directive in place, there haven’t been any negative comments."

However, an agent who represents several players within the France setup told ESPN that the decision has not gone down well. One of those players is U19 international Mahamadou Diawara, who left the squad on Thursday. It is reported that Diawara felt uncomfortable about the rules forbidding Muslim players from observing Ramadan, with the FFF confirming the midfielder has returned to his club Lyon.

"Some players are not happy with this decision," the agent said. "They believe that their religion is not respected and that they are not respected either. Some don't want to cause a fuss but Mahamadou was not happy with it so he left."

Despite the controversial directive, FFF president Philippe Diallo defended the decision in an interview with Le Figaro on Wednesday.

“I reaffirmed that it is within this framework of neutrality that our selections function concretely, which means that we do not modify the conditions of practice for our selections for religious reasons,” he said.

The decision to ban Muslim players from observing Ramadan while on international duty follows other controversial bans in France, which in 2010 banned the wearing of burqas in public. Then in August last year, France banned children from wearing the abaya in state-run schools.

These decisions were justified by the French government under its secularism principles.

Updated: March 22, 2024, 4:41 PM