Forget the fantastic goals and put the comical cans of spray paint to the back of your mind.
The real story coming from the Brazil World Cup is going on behind closed doors. It’s not yet another Fifa corruption claim, but which players are, er, scoring off the pitch.
More goals have been scored in the opening days of the competition that at any previous tournament, but the world’s media has been speculating breathlessly about another kind of scoring: which teams’ managers are, shall we say, restricting strenuous nocturnal stamina-training activities.
There are no hard and fast rules about whether players should be allowed to have sex during tournament periods, but some teams are being very firm about their sexually restrictive policies, while others are happy to let nature take its course.
We do know that the Italian team, which vanquished England on Saturday, were permitted to enjoy the company of their wives and girlfriends in Manaus the night before their 2-1 victory. Of course, the same was true of the England camp, though, so the Italians had no unfair advantage there.
As an aside, gullible fans can take cheer from a breathless Daily Star “exclusive” which “revealed” that England fans could now relax, as the arrival of “sexy” Coleen Rooney would “perk” up her husband Wayne’s performance on the pitch, after he fired “blanks” against Italy. That’s a victory against Uruguay sorted then, lads.
The Spanish and Germans are allowed to play away from the pitch throughout the four-week festival of football, but are forbidden from indulging the night before any game, so it’s unlikely that it was a night of passion with his wife Lisa that inspired striker Thomas Mueller to score a hat-trick on the pitch against Portugal.
Oddly, the Costa Ricans only have a restriction on sex until the second round of the tournament, while the more traditional Nigerians are only allowed to bed down with their wives, not their girlfriends. In contrast, the Brazilian and Mexican players have been told to fill their boots, as long as it’s not too acrobatic. One can only assume team coaches are pulling all-night shifts outside bedroom doors to enforce a missionary-only policy
Unsurprisingly, it’s the romance-friendly French who have perhaps the most trusting policy, allowing a sexual free-for-all as long as the frequency, type and timing of activities don’t get out of control. Apparently, the team’s former doctor says that sex is “relaxing” for the players, but there’s a stern warning that it shouldn’t become an all-night activity. Most scientists tend to agree with him, too, with numerous studies finding sex before sport has few, if any, ill effects on the players’ game.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina manager obviously hasn’t seen those studies, though, and he’s instigated a total sex ban. It’s the same story for the sex-deprived players of Russia and Chile, though the latter could potentially pop home between games for some forbidden passion. Perhaps they’ve taken inspiration from the ancient Greeks, who believed that preserving a man’s sperm was essential to creating the required aggression for public performance.
What footballers and elite athletes get up to at sporting competitions has ignited media feeding frenzies before. In 2006 the England camp was called a “circus” by Rio Ferdinand after manager Sven Goran Eriksson allowed celebrity wives and girlfriends such as Victoria Beckham and Cheryl Cole to accompany the squad. Four years later, Fabio Capello was much stricter in South Africa – not that it did much good on the pitch.
As for the elite stars themselves, most have (sensibly) stayed silent about the intimate details of their sexual exploits, but back in the 1990s Linford Christie, the British sprinter, famously said a romp the night before a race made his legs feel like lead. That wouldn’t do for a quarter-final clash.
George Best disagreed, arguing that sex the night before a big game wasn’t a problem. Wisely, he did draw the line at sex on a match day, though, saying that “I certainly never found it had any effect on my performance. Maybe best not the hour before, but the night before makes no odds.”