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Games caterers dish up solution for athletes in Ramadan fasts

PEOPLE often complain about the dismal weather, but the long daylight hours during this summer's Commonwealth Games are presenting a problem for Muslim competitors observing Ramadan.

FOCUS: Bowlers Ali Shan Muzahir, left, and Ayub Qureshi Mohammed will fast during the Games. Picture: Paul Drury
FOCUS: Bowlers Ali Shan Muzahir, left, and Ayub Qureshi Mohammed will fast during the Games. Picture: Paul Drury

The first week of the event from July 23 coincides with the start of the holy month where adherents to the faith are expected to fast from sunrise until sunset.

In mid-July, when the athletes arrive, daylight will last from 5am until 10pm - the longest period of fasting many Muslims from the southern hemisphere will have ever experienced. The last time Ramadan occurred in July was during the London Olympics in 2012, when daylight was one hour shorter than in Scotland.

In order to stop this unique dietary challenge from affecting their daytime sporting performance, Glasgow 2014 chefs and caterers have been working round the clock to ensure all practising Muslims among the 6500 athletes and their team officials, 35,000 games families, the workforce and volunteers, and 60,000 international media, as well as spectators, sponsors and guests, will be able to eat as permitted in the wee small hours.

During Ramadan practising Muslims - including those in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Canada- have Suhoor, a hearty meal of fresh fruit, vegetables, Halal meats, breads, cheeses and sweets served before dawn, and iftar, a lighter option served after sunset. Dates and water mark the breaking of the fast.

Kosher and vegetarian foods will also be available on menus at sporting and hospitality venues during the Games, and all food will meet the requirements of the groundbreaking Glasgow 2014 Food Charter launched last November to ensure caterers to the Games source as many sustainably-produced ingredients as possible from Scotland. More than two million meals will be served over the 30 days and even with sourcing ongoing, it has already been confirmed that some 60% of ingredients are Scottish.

Pakistan bowler Mohammed Ayub Qureshi, 55, said: "Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam. It will be difficult, but if you have a faith you believe in, you have to do it. We have been fasting all our lives, so we are used to it.

"We will be prepared to play the games. We will be fasting and playing bowls."

The joint owner of the Alishan Tandoori in Battlefield, Glasgow, added: "We believe that if we observe our religion, it will give us encouragement, give you more spirit. It will give you more motivation as well, that you have to try harder because you don't want any other people to think that because you're fasting your performance will be below average."

The Food Charter differentiates Glasgow from the London Olympics, and has been adopted by organisers of the Ryder Cup. It applies to all 14 venues including the Emirates Arena, the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, Scotstoun Sports Campus, Celtic Park and Hampden; the opening and closing ceremonies; hospitality and sponsor events; and the 2014 Food Festivals in Candleriggs and Glasgow Green.

"None of this is a problem and it is just one of the many cultural, religious and sporting dietary variations we have been working to meet over the last two years, consulting with nutritionists and trainers and using as much Scottish produce as we can," said Craig Lear, head of catering for Glasgow 2014.

Hundreds of catering staff from India, Austria, London, Canada and Scotland, including young graduates of Motherwell and City of Glasgow hospitality colleges, have been recruited to provide a rolling 24/7, three-shift, catering operation at the main 2014-cover Athletes' Village in Dalmarnock and the main press centre.

Australian-born Lear, 45, who catered the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the 2002 Manchester and 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, said: "Athletes are obsessed by three things: transport, accommodation and food. They tend to be fastidious and somewhat superstitious about what they eat during training and before a performance. After that, they will completely switch their diets and eat what, as much as, they like. Some will eat three steaks in a sitting, while others will nibble on a lettuce leaf, at all times and at any hour."

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