Federer rejects dubious distractions of village life

Tennis' world No 1 opts for a hotel to avoid the starstruck athletes in 'adult Disney World'. By Nick Harris in Beijing
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The Independent Online

Some athletes are just so annoyingly famous that even their fellow stars cannot stop badgering them for autographs. Such a fate has befallen Roger Federer, and the fact that the world's No 1 tennis player cannot walk peacefully through the Games village means he will be staying in a hotel instead.

At least the Swiss insists the pestering is to blame. "It is impossible really [to stay in the village]" he said. "There are so many athletes asking for photos and so on. It is not ideal to prepare." Federer, who will celebrate his 27th birthday today by carrying Switzerland's flag in the Olympics opening ceremony, may also find the village less attractive these days because he is happily attached to his long-term girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec.

The village offers its most attractive distractions to those free and single. Where did Roger and Mirka meet, for example? At an Olympic village, in Sydney in 2000. And that village, like so many other temporary hormone-packed homes for super-fit sports people, gained itself a reputation as party central. The athletes collectively drained the locality of all available contraception, prompting the distribution of 130,000 free condoms to athletes in Athens in 2004. That's roughly 13 condoms per athlete during a Games fortnight. Beijing will not be providing any, although individual Olympic Associations, including Australia's, will provide baskets full of them in communal areas.

Sex is not yet an Olympic sport but it certainly seems to be an Olympics village activity. As the 1992 double gold medal-winning American swimmer Nelson Diebel once said, the Games is "a two-week-long private party for thousands of hard bodies".

One village logistics planner says, "It's like an adult Disney World for two weeks." And Breaux Greer, an American javelin thrower participating here has said: "There's a lot of sex going on. You get a lot of people who are in shape, and, you know, testosterone's up and everybody's attracted to everybody." Australia's women's swimming team famously stripped off on the village balcony in 1992 to tease onlookers. Village-plotted shenanigans do not start and end with nudity though.

Another Australian swimmer, Dawn Fraser, stole out of the Tokyo village one night in 1964 and pinched the Emperor of Japan's flag from his palace. She was banned from swimming for 10 years, a punishment later reduced to four. The decision over whether to stay in the village or elsewhere is down to the individual. Most athletes stay there. Megastars like America's NBA basketball giant, Kobe Bryant, will not. But Michael Phelps, who could win eight golds in the pool, will. The US tennis sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, will give the village a miss to prepare away from the hubbub. But Britain's Andy Murray will be one of the village people, as will Spain's Rafael Nadal.

Circumstances rather than taste dictate the accommodation arrangements of other sports people at the Games. Argentina's footballers, including Lionel Messi, have been based away from Beijing because their games are elsewhere.

Most of the British team will be staying in the village. The only Britons who will not be are the equestrian team, in Hong Kong, the sailors, in Qingdao, and the rowers and canoeists, who are staying nearer their competition venue on the outskirts of the capital. There is a no-alcohol policy, however, while gambling is strictly banned and the only DVDs on sale are wholesome family titles. Maybe Federer just fancies a nice glass of wine and a movie that isn't a "12".