Religion and the Olympics (London Summer 2012)

Nine different religions will be seen at this years 2012 Summer Olympics held in London. Typically represented are those who are considered Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist, but this year London organizers have also added Sikh, Zoroastrian, Jain and Baha’i. With this in mind, many new accommodations have had to be made and considered this year.

A way of catering to the needs of all the religions the Olympics will be providing a “prayer room at every venue, the Olympic Village will have a large multi-faith centre, with a common lounge and specific areas for the five largest faiths, managed by representatives of those faiths,” according to BBC. There will also be 193 chaplains, representing the nine faiths that will endure the needs of the individual competitors and their varying faiths will be met.

As we discussed in class, one of the biggest and most prominent potential problems is that Ramadan falls on July 20 to August 18 this year and the games will begin July 27 and extend to August 15. This year there are over 3,000 participating Muslims, which is approximately 27% of the over 11,000 athletes at the games this year. This can put participating athletes at a great disadvantage because during Ramadan an individual is to abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset, which can lead to dehydration and other heath and performance issues. In response to this, the International Olympic Committee is going to provide 24-hour dining halls which will allow for athletes to eat before dawn and meals after sunset.

Fasting can put many athletes at a disadvantage. According to a study conducted in 2007 and documented by the British Journals Sports Medicine, Algerian Muslim men who played football ran an average of 5448 meters in 30 minutes when fasting and 5649 when not. This study shows there is a substantial decrease in performance during fasting.

In response to the potential negative affects Ramadan could impact on their sport, some athletes may opt to fulfill their fasting at a later date. In the Qur’an’s Sura al-Baqarah chapter – verses 2:183-2:185, it states that “If you are ill, or a traveller, carry out your fast later on”. This portion of the Qur’an may be up for interpretation to some athletes and they may choose to fast at a later day and partake in other religious rituals.

Another large religious factor that will be seen at this years games is that Saudi Arabia will be allowing women to compete for the first time, according to BBC News. A few weeks ago there was speculation of disqualifying Saudi Arabia for gender discrimination, but it has been reported that women will be competing.

Another controversial issue seen is the story of Aya Medany, published by BBC Sport. She is a woman from Egypt who played at the Olympics for the first time at the age of fifteen. Her sports include: fencing, swimming, riding horses, running and shooting. The problem is not running but swimming. She would prefer to wear a suit that will cover her entire body so she can abide by her culture and remain modest. But this year it has been stated  that a woman’s swimsuit “shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor extend below the knee.” This rule is enacted based off of the fact that these full-bodied swim suits enhance the speed of the competitor. This rule is leading to the potential of this being Medany’s last partaking of the Olympics game, as well as other issues back at home.

Despite the variety of controversies and potential problems, London does not see an problem with a variety of religions being in one location at the same time. The idea that sports is a commonality and something all the athletes have in common is what will help to keep the peace during the month of competing.

Aya Medany

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