The age-old question of whether or not sports people should perform the night before a performance was reignited yesterday amid a frenzy of reports that Commonwealth Games athletes were overindulging in sex in the privacy of the official village.
A report in an Indian newspaper – quickly disputed by officials – claimed that toilets in the village had been blocked by thousands of flushed used condoms. The Mail Today also said a machine installed at the village and containing 4,000 packets, each with two condoms, was already half-empty.
The anticipated sexual activities of young, fit athletes has been a topic of intense discussion before all major sporting events ever since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona when, for the first time, organisers decided to distribute free condoms to promote safe sex. Since then, most major sporting events have followed a similar course. At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, 100,000 were distributed, at the Athens Games of 2004 130,000 condoms were handed out, while at the Beijing Olympics two years ago a reported 100,000 were provided to the 10,500 athletes in the Olympic village – almost 10 for everyone taking part. In contrast the 4,000 condoms available for the 8,000 athletes participating part in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi appears to be prudishly paltry. Last night, reports of the clogged plumbing were dismissed by Games officials. One said: "There was no clogging in the drains at the village and no plumber was called in. This is mere sensationalisation by media."
But by then it was too late. The city was already buzzing with reports about the amorous athletes and the Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell said: "If that is happening, it shows that there is use of condoms and I think that is a very positive story. Athletes are being responsible. We all know that encouraging safe sex is a very important thing to do."
The conviction that sex before an event damages performance is something that has been long been held by the sporting world. Muhammad Ali purportedly claimed to resist all carnal indulgence for a full six weeks before a fight, while British sprinter Linford Christie said sex before running made his legs feel like lead.
Experts do not necessarily agree. Ian Shrier, a sports medicine specialist at McGill University in Montreal, said the harmful impact of sex before a sporting event had been "disproved". In a 2000 article published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, he said: "The long-standing myth that athletes should practice abstinence before important competitions may stem from the theory that sexual frustration leads to increased aggression."
The final word perhaps belongs to former British table tennis player Matthew Syed. During the Beijing Games, he wrote: "I am often asked if the Olympic village is the sex-fest it is cracked up to be. My answer is: too right it is. My first Games was in Barcelona in 1992 and I got laid more often in those two-and-a-half weeks than in the rest of my life up to that point. That is to say twice, which may not sound a lot, but for a 21-year-old undergraduate with crooked teeth, it was a minor miracle."