First Muslim to play for England joins calls for RFL to introduce Ramadan fast breaks

Aaron Bower

The first Muslim to represent England at international level has called on the Rugby Football League and Super League to introduce formal fasting breaks into games for players observing Ramadan “as a matter of urgency”.

Ikram Butt, who played at the likes of Leeds Rhinos, Featherstone Rovers and London Broncos, appeared for England in 1995 and is now Executive Chairman of the British Asian Rugby Association (BARA).

A number of Muslims currently play in Super League including London duo Iliess Macani and Hakim Miloudi, Catalans winger Fouad Yaha and Salford centre Nene Macdonald. However, if they are playing in evening fixtures, they have to break their fast while the game is ongoing, something Miloudi revealed to Love Rugby League at the weekend.

That meal, known as the Iftar, is the time at sunset when Muslims break their daily fast with a small meal, often dates or a small piece of fruit. And Butt hopes rugby league can now follow in the footsteps of football and introduce a break – no longer than a minute or two – which allows players to break fast safely and properly.

He told Love Rugby League: “I’m calling on the RFL and Super League to introduce Iftar breaks into rugby league games as a matter of urgency to promote player welfare.”

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Butt said: “Rugby league is such a demanding game, it’s not sensible for Muslim players to be expected to give as much as they do without having a proper break.

“Iftar breaks are now common in the football Premier League but the sport of rugby league, despite it being such a welcoming and family sport, we seem to be behind the curve on this one.

“We are usually one of the first to introduce innovations and the RFL should be bringing in an official break, as soon as next weekend. The Premier League provided guidance to their referees last year to stop play at an agreed time so that players could break their fast and I’m urging the RFL to do the same.

“It’s a small moment that would have a large meaning. Rugby league is seen as being an open and welcoming sport and it has provided me with a huge amount of very proud memories and a small step such as this would signal to people from an Islamic faith of all ages that it is a sport that would welcome them.

“One of the Missions of BARA is the goal of fostering inclusivity and diversity through the sport of rugby. We want more people of south Asian origin to participate in rugby league and sport in general, and by making what is a small gesture and could be fitted into the natural breaks in a game anyway, the RFL could inspire a new generation of athletes and enthusiasts.”

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