PARIS (AP) - Is cricket the most civilized game ever?
Not content with exporting the notion that no match is complete without a nice cup of tea and keeping laundries in work by encouraging players to wear white, cricket has now embarked on a full-frontal challenge to one of sport’s oldest misconceptions - that abstaining from sex significantly boosts your game.
Poor old Robert de Niro. Had Jake LaMotta been an Indian cricketer instead of a boxer who swore off sex before combat, then the actor might have been spared the painful scene in the LaMotta biopic "Raging Bull," where he poured a jug of ice water down his shorts to cool his desire.
"They keep tellin’ ya how sex and fights don’t mix," LaMotta explained. "It kills the legs..."
Well, courtesy of the Hindustan Times, we now know that that is not what India’s cricketers have been told.
To prepare the players mentally for the Champions Trophy now under way in South Africa, India coaches Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton put together a four-part dossier of self-help tips, the newspaper said this week. They stressed the importance of being aggressive on the field, integrity and healthy eating. But it was their sex advice that made headlines across the cricketing world.
"Does sex increase performance? Yes it does, so go ahead and indulge," they reportedly recommend. "Having sex increases testosterone levels, which causes an increase in strength, energy, aggression and competitiveness."
For the LaMotta types, the dossier adds: "Enforced celibacy may not be the best solution for someone wanting to avoid having sex before competition ... You may experience that your mind spends more time focussing on the fire in your groin than on good sport practice, preparation and sleep."
Given the huge amount of international cricket being played these days, it’s true that players need all the help they can get. The sport is proving that more does not necessarily mean better. England and Australia have dragged themselves to South Africa after a long summer of head-to-head Ashes tests and one-day internationals. India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand got barely time to catch their breath after their tri-nation series earlier this month. That cricket’s administrators want to cash in on TV revenues and sponsorship is understandable. But expecting fans and players to swallow such a rich diet of seemingly non-stop competition is not.
Anyway, enough of the serious stuff. Back to the boudoir.
The debate on whether sex helps or hinders athletic performance has been around almost as long as sport itself.
Muhammad Ali is said to have believed that abstention turns boxers into warriors by making them mean and angry. Then coach Plamen Markov reportedly imposed a sex ban on Bulgaria’s football team ahead of a European Championship qualifying match against Belgium in 2003. The result was inconclusive: the sides drew 2-2.
As Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel once famously remarked: "Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in."
And then there are those who swear by it.
"Sex really helps," said Russian hockey star Alexander Ovechkin when RT television interviewer Sophie Shevardnadze quizzed him on the topic this August.
Before or after the match? she followed up. "Before and after."
Italian footballer Fabio Cannavaro has also listed "eating, sleeping and sex" as his recipe for success.
Ultimately, says Dr. Gilbert Bou Jaoude, secretary general of the Francophone Society of Sexual Medicine, the soundest advice for athletes is do what works for you.
Regular sexual activity - meaning "two to four times a week" - does boost testosterone for some men, he explains. But because feel-good endorphins released during sex help relax muscles, intercourse shortly before a match might not be wise in contact sports like rugby.
"All of this is variable from one person to the next," he says.
His recommendation is that athletes try both ways out of competition - training with and without sex the night before - to test whether their performance is affected.
"People need to see what works for them," he says.
Which leaves one unanswered dilemma: Should India’s players not win the Champions Trophy, should we assume that it’s because they’ve been unlucky in love?