Research says yes to sex - and don't the athletes just love it

John Crean

'No sex please they're athletes' used to be the conventional wisdom when discussing the merits or otherwise of some pre-match hanky-panky.

Although sportsmen and women the world over are not known to be great abstainers, their coaches and doctors regularly warn of the debilitating effects of 'fore play'.

At World Cups and the like, managers lock up their players to prevent any nocturnal naughtiness in the age-old belief that a good performance in bed translates into a poor performance on the field.

Well, researchers in Italy - it had to be Italy, didn't it - have discovered the opposite. Sex before a game, it seems, can be a pick me up, not a deflator.

It's all to do with testosterone, the hormone that dictates sex drive and aggression. The notion that celibate sportsmen do it better because testosterone levels build up when a player is deprived of sex is bogus. In fact, the more you do it, the more you want it.

'It's like starvation. When you don't eat you aren't hungry but when you start to eat regularly, then hunger returns,' said one of the researchers, a good doctor Emmanuele Jannini.

Of course, he has not uncovered anything that the randier beings in the sports world did not know already. All those NBA players who Sports Illustrated revealed had fathered hundreds of children out of wedlock must have been hard at it the night before an important game and they still put points on the board.

And there was footballer George Best, who had a voracious sexual appetite. Forget the night before, Best has missed Saturday kick-offs because he had a big match of his own at the local hotel.

Best was chuffed at the survey results. 'If the scientists say so then it must be right - it certainly did not do me any harm.' News of the findings has spread far and sports journalists in Singapore have done a bit of research of their own. It transpires that athletes in that squeaky clean metropolis indulge quite happily - sex before a vital encounter is okay so long as they don't smoke or chew gum afterwards.

Singapore's rugby captain Terence Khoo was pretty matter of fact about it all.

'I have not noticed any significant difference [whether he does or doesn't],' he said. 'The Singapore Rugby Union does not ask our players to abstain from sex before a major tournament or a big game. The choice is theirs.' And the female view from Varsha Majmudar, the republic's snooker champion. 'I did not refrain before the National Championships,' she said.

'I needed to get my mind off the game and sex stops you from getting nervous.' Maybe former England manager Glenn Hoddle, who was stubbornly of the opinion that sex before a game was harmful, should have taken on Majmudar as an adviser rather than surrounding himself with faith healers and mediums.

Also, Kevin Keegan, the current boss, might have got more out of his players if he had opened the door to wives and girlfriends before the recent game against Scotland instead of letting the lads booze, play cards and watch boxing on television until the early hours of the morning.

Mind you, England midfielder Paul Ince, who told the tabloids about Keegan's male-bonding session, is probably an exception to the new rule.

'A good tackle,' he maintains 'is better than sex.'