I have just watched The Muslim Premier League, a 30 minute BBC sports/religion programme about Muslims playing professional football in the English Premier league (available on iPlayer until Tuesday 16th), which reminded me of a shorter piece that Football Focus ran on Christians (and those of other faiths) in football in 2007.
On the whole it was a reasonable news documentary, attempting to be sympathetic to the faith of Muslim footballers coming into the UK. (There are no British Muslims currently playing in the premier league, all come in from abroad). The makers interviewed a few current players including Demba Ba and Ali Al Habsi, a couple of managers including Sam Allardyce and Arsene Wenger, as well as the Liverpool club doctor who is a Muslim. There was a general bemoaning that there are not more home-grown Muslims in the Premiership, and discussion surrounding the keeping of Ramadan. One overall thesis to come out of the programme is that the world of football is more diverse and more accepting than society at large – it has to be due to the diversity of players.
But one disappointment about the programme was in its emphasis in what the faith consists of. Although the programme was generally sympathetic, I can’t help thinking that they have concentrated on those things that Muslims are ‘not’ to do. I’m no expert on Islam but the programme mentioned the ‘issues’ that Muslim players bring to a culture in which drinking and gambling is (was?) a key component. Fasting at Ramadan (30 days, dawn until dusk, no food or fluid) is also a problem as players, understandably, have to be in peak physical condition. Now, not drinking or gambling, and fasting in order to bring yourself closer to God are all good things and Christians too are instructed to avoid drink in excess, warned of gambling, and encouraged to fast regularly. However, surely there are some more positives from Islam that they could have included in the programme? For example, how does their faith help them day-to-day as a footballer? The programme failed to address this.
Overall, the 2007 excerpt from Football Focus (below)was a much more rounded piece of documentary film making.