When to abstain and when not to

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WATCHING Magic Johnson on Oprah Winfrey the other day - purely in the interests of research, you understand, and not because I'm a sad retard addicted to daytime television - I was intrigued to learn of the great basketball player's rigid sexual regimen. For Magic was strict and utterly disciplined when it came to pre-match rumpo. Whatever the temptation, he said, he never indulged before an important game, as basketball came first. Oh well, I thought, that's all right then. Certainly Oprah and her audience seemed impressed.

The whole subject of sex and sport, though, is a knotty and complex one. This week Brian Clough entered the debate with an exhortation to his troubled midfield player Roy Keane. 'In this game you have to curb yourself,' mused the great man. 'But he'll learn. It's the same in life, and the best thing Roy could do is to get himself a girlfriend, have a courtship, and even think of settling down to married life.' In other words, all Keane really needs is a good seeing to. As excuses for poor performances go, you have to admit it's original.

And yet, even in Italy, sportsmen's sexual habits can assume awesome significance. Paul Gascoigne's latest transgression - that burp - has in part been ascribed to 'girlfriend trouble'. Could the tiny-brained midfield wizard be failing to deliver in the trouser department? Sadly, no genuine information is available on this subject, but this shouldn't stop many of the game's most influential observers making some up.

In the Captain Scott Invitation XI we have strong rules on sex in cricket. On the field of play, for instance, all sexual acts are completely banned, even if someone's girlfriend is playing because someone else hasn't turned up. Before games, we all, as self-respecting athletes, abstain utterly from sexual activity, unless of course there's the chance of having some. After games, we're all too tired. There is the case of one ageing Captain Scott player, rumoured to have been a rabbit in a previous life, who regularly tramps off into the bushes with his girlfriend, and needless to say a vast network of rumours and guesswork has grown up around these no doubt harmless nature rambles. But he is - or possibly isn't - the exception in most cases; girlfriends and wives tend to complain that cricket hasn't so much enhanced sex, as replaced it.

But then the aerobic properties of sex are well documented. According to one survey, a single sexual act expends as much energy as seven and a half hours standing around at cocktail parties, or 45 minutes of throwing frisbee. It is therefore, I presume, an integral part of any serious fitness programme. After all, as that well-known physiotherapist Pliny the Elder once wrote, sexual intercourse is the perfect treatment for pains in the loins, dimness of sight, insanity or melancholia. So perhaps Phillip DeFreitas' groin strain isn't as untreatable as was first thought.

Unfortunately, sex can also prove the sportsman's downfall, as many carnally inclined performers have found over the years. Few words in the language have had as immense an impact on sport as 'barmaid', other than possibly 'physiotherapist's wife'. Magic Johnson, sitting there with his long-suffering wife, Cookie, on the Oprah show, didn't look too chuffed either. So it will be interesting to see what effect Brian Clough's advice has on poor unsettled Roy Keane. Caution and care should be his watchwords. Perhaps, on second thoughts, 45 minutes of frisbee practice may be a better bet after all.