Jurgen Klinsmann, the manager of the United States national team that will head to Brazil facing a tough task in the 2014 World Cup, has attracted his fair share of criticism from American fans for a variety of decisions leading up to the tournament. But his players are probably pleased with at least one declaration Klinsmann made this week: he won’t ban them from having sex during the World Cup.
“We are very casual in the way we approach things. Their families can come pretty much any time, they will be at the games, they can come to the hotel and we can have barbecues together. I think every nation is different,” Klinsmann said when asked if he’d follow in the footsteps of other managers who have banned players from having sex during the Cup. Klinsmann referenced his time as a player — he led West Germany to a World Cup victory in 1990 — to note that different cultures treat the issue differently. But the Yanks will be able to remain focused on the pitch even if they’re doing something else off of it.
“We have a group of guys together and an environment together that is very open, it’s very casual. But once we go on the field for training and for the games we are very serious and down to business.”
The issue of players having sex at the World Cup pops up every four years — Klinsmann was asked because Mexico manager Miguel Herrera announced in late May that he won’t let his players have sex throughout the tournament.
“If a player can’t go one month or 20 days without having sexual relations, then they are not prepared to be a professional player,” Herrera said. “Forty days of sexual abstinence isn’t going to hurt anybody.”
Herrera isn’t alone. Bosnia-Herzogovina manager Safet Susic said in April that he won’t allow his players to have sex during the World Cup, though he added that his players “can find another solution, they can even masturbate if they want.” The managers of Spain, Germany, and Chile have all banned players from having sex.
Then there’s the hybrid approach taken by Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose team is dealing with the pressure of trying to win a World Cup on home soil. “The players can have normal sex during the World Cup,” Scolari said in April. “Usually normal sex is done in balanced way, but there are certain forms, certain ways and others who do acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players.”
France manager Didier Deschamps, meanwhile, says it all “depends on when, and how much.”
While managers may fret about the amount of energy their players expend between the sheets while at the World Cup, there’s no research supporting the idea that abstaining from sex improves athletic performance. The research that has been published suggests there’s no difference at all, as Discovery News pointed out before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa:
In a 1995 study, he challenged 11 men to a treadmill test. Some had sex 12 hours before the test. Some abstained. Results, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, showed no difference between the groups in how much oxygen their hearts needed or how efficiently their bodies used oxygen.
Whether players can or should be allowed to have sex around major sporting events is a common and often funny topic, but sex and sexuality have also been bigger issues around Brazil’s World Cup — and not just when it comes to players. Adidas, one of the Cup’s official sponsors, drew criticism for playing up sexual stereotypes of Brazilian women with two World Cup-themed t-shirts it produced earlier this year. One featured a bikini-clad Brazilian woman next to the slogan, “Looking to score,” the other used a woman’s rear end to illustrate “I Love Brazil.” Even Brazilian president Dilma Roussef criticized the shirts, and the company withdrew them amid calls for it to recognize that Brazil is “more than soccer balls and butts.”
The shirts drew attention to rampant sexualization of Brazilian (and Latina) women worldwide. That sexualization, as Nicole Froio wrote in The Guardian, can be tied to larger problems: one online survey found that 90 percent of Brazilian women say they change their dress to avoid fears of harassment, and 80 percent have avoided going out to avoid harassment. 99 percent said they had been harassed on the street. As Froio noted, latest government statistics show rising rape and sexual assault rates in the country too.
Brazil is also one of the world’s leading destinations for sex tourism, and the Brazilian government has ramped up its efforts to combat such tourism in recent years, asking web sites that sell sex to stop using official Brazilian travel branding and fighting against sex hotels. While some of those efforts have tried to eliminate child sex tourism, other government initiatives have been criticized for illegally and improperly cracking down on Brazil’s sex workers, as City Lab’s Julie Ruvolo detailed this week. In response, many of those sex workers have been among the Brazilians protesting the government ahead of the World Cup.
Of course, sex and sports mix all the time, and not just in Brazil: high-profile sexual assault cases and the sexualization of female athletes, women who work in sports, and male players’ significant others have emerged as major issues in the American sports world in ways that have helped put a new lens on the discussion about misogyny and sexism in broader American society. So while it’s always fun to talk about the sex-related policies of World Cup teams and managers, it’s worth discussing and reshaping the more serious ways in which sports and sex interact and shape society throughout the world too.