Does sex really affect performance of footballers?

Pulse Ghana Sports digs deep into this age-old debate

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Some fans of the club, meanwhile, are angry with the team's underwhelming performance, and seemed to have diagnosed it from a bizarre, unexpected perspective: They think the women's supporters wing of the club, named 'Hearts Ladies', are infecting the players with 'bad luck' by having a lot of sex with them.

“Hearts Ladies should be very careful,” they warned, airing their grievances on Accra-based Asempa FM.

“Whenever they see especially foreign players in the team, they want them give themselves to the player and end up giving him bad luck.

“After the players have finished sleeping with the ladies, the players find it difficult to perform on the pitch for the team.”

This outburst has once again seen the serial debate of the relationship between sex and athletic performance to the fore. Indeed, many football stake holders have publicly expressed their disapproval of athletes who engage in sex before competing. This has been mainly because of the belief that it results in malperformance, either via lowered physical exertion or the even the superstitious factor of 'bad luck'.


The Ghana Premier League has for the last decade or so suffered from severe accusations of lacking quality and excitement, with many observers saying players of bygone eras had way more substance and entertainment value than contemporary stars. In October last year, legendary Ghanaian footballer Malik Jabir weighed in his thoughts on the conversation, and they were interesting.

“A lot of today's players cannot play 90 minutes because they get tired so easily,” Jabir was quoted as saying by Spanish media outlet AS.

“And you know why? Because they don't sleep enough and don't train enough and they engage in too much sex. There are beautiful young girls in Ghana and they won't leave them alone."

The fixation with sex as being a demon to player-performance isn't entirely a Ghanaian problem, though. Even Brazil, the most successful football nation in the world with five World Cup titles, have been a bit paranoid about the subject in the past.

Four months before the crucial 2014 World Cup which they hosted and planned on winning, coach Luis Felipe Scolari spoke on the subject.

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"The players can have normal sex during the World Cup," he began softly, later adding a headline-grabbing caveat: "Usually normal sex is done in a balanced way but some like to perform acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players.’

Indeed, for that World Cup, as many as four teams - Bosia and Herzegovina, Chile, Mexico and Russia - banned players from having sex, restricting access to their footballers' wives and girlfriends.

"There will be no sex in Brazil," warned Safet Susic, the coach of Bosnia-Herzegovina speaking to reporters in April 2014. "They can find another solution, they can even masturbate if they want. I am not interested what the other coaches do, this is not a holiday trip, we are there to play football at the World Cup,”

"Nobody has died from practising abstinence for 40 days,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera defended.

In South Africa last year, Orlando Pirates coach Augusto Palacios made headlines by announcing a ban on sex for his players three days before games because, "it will drain their energy and take away their concentration levels."

"I am so strict about players conducting nefarious activities because I need to protect the interests of the club," he added.

All these instances show that many football actors across the world believe the infamous quote from the 'Rocky' movie series: "Women weaken legs."

But, are all of these worries and fears over sex as a performance enemy valid?


Well, some people seem not to think so. Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola, defending himself after player Samir Nasri accused him of imposing a sex ban on players, claimed: “It’s impossible to play good football if you don’t have sex with your partner.

“I never did that and I would never ban that. If you are doing it, [then] better players!" he added.

More people agree that it's harmless. Here's Ronaldo, the original one (Luis Nazario de Lima), who was a World Cup winner and three-time World Player of the Year, speaking on Brazilian Television in 2004: "I have had sex several times before some games. It helps you concentrate. Not all the coaches let you have sex before a match though. I have noticed that in some games that I played better because I had sex before them."

Let's revisit the countries that enforced sex bans at the Brazil World Cup: We'll find out that all of them failed to make it past the round of 16. Rather, Germany and Netherlands - two teams known not have banned sex - reached the semis, and the German went further to even win the trophy.

Interestingly, people from other sports agree that the fear of sex before performance is basically much ado about nothing.

"Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player," baseball coach Casey Stengel once famously remarked: "It's staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in."

Even at the Olympics, where athletic performance is upheld and celebrated, sex is seen as normal and no big deal. At the 2004 edition in Athens, 130,000 condoms and 30,000 lubricants were distributed for athletes who wanted to 'get busy'. At the 2016 edition in Rio, the condom figures reached around 450,000.

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What does science say about the subject, though?

"It's often talked about, but it has not been shown to be true," said sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzel, quoted in . "There are lots of factors that could account for how a player performs."

In 2004, physiology expert Dr Ian Shrirer, a former president of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, explained: "(Having sex) the night before has no effect on strength or endurance or any of the physical abilities of the athletes. A lot of people think it has to do with the psychological effects."

In the case of women, the dynamics are even more fascinating. "Coaches generally tell their athletes to abstain before competition. In the case of women, that's the wrong advice," said Israeli physician Alexander Olshanietzky in 1996, before the Atlanta Olympics. "We believe that a woman gets better results in sports competition after orgasm. Generally, it's true of high jumpers and runners. The more orgasms, the more chances of winning a medal."


In a rare research endeavour published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness in 2000, the researchers concluded: "Our findings show that sexual activity had no detrimental influence on the maximal workload achieved and on the athletes' mental concentration."

More myth-busting came in a July 2016 paper published in the journal Frontiers of Physiology: "The data available do not really support the misconception that sex activity can produce a negative effect on the athlete's performance."

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Now that there's enough evidence to prove that sex, especially had the night before performances, does little to no harm to performance, let's close with the story of English football legend George Best.

Notoriously a 'bad boy' in his hey days - he once famously said "I used to go missing a lot... Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World" - Best's ascension to legendary status despite this surely is telling.

"George Best had sex at half time, sex when he was taking corners, sex during throw-ins," joked football writer Hunter Davies. "But it was drink that got him in the end. I don't believe sex does any harm, so you can only make jokes about it."

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Now, here's the late George Best himself speaking to the Observer many years ago: "I certainly never found it had any effect on my performance. Maybe best not the hour before, but the night before makes no odds."


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