Sexy Science - Why footballers usually manage to score in the mating game

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It looks like 21st-century man needs to be more than sensitive and caring. Dr Mairi McLeod says studies show women still admire a high achiever ... particularly on the sports field

THE MALE contingent of a large proportion of the Western world will be glued to their TV sets, beer in hand, this Sunday evening for the final of Euro 2008. Quite a few will also be donning their football boots for a trot around the field with their own local team over the weekend. What is it with guys and their obsession with soccer?

A male friend of mine reckons it's to do with penetration – you know, the thrill of negotiating the ball past the competition, right up to the orgasmic finale as it hits the back of the net. Well, he might have a point, but it doesn't take too great a leap to imagine that competition on the field might also have something to do with competition for status and approval in the eyes of the opposite sex.

This needn't be a conscious function and men may be more concerned with forming alliances and winning the approval of their team mates than worrying about what women think. But sport provides the perfect arena for showcasing one's physique and athletic prowess, and a French study demonstrated that male students who competed in sports had more sexual partners than those who weren't sporty, and that among the sportsmen, the high achievers got the most girls.

Team sports like football give men an especially good opportunity to demonstrate their physical dominance because they must compete for status against their teammates as well as the guys on the other side. And high status is supremely attractive to women.

In her book A Mind of Her Own, evolutionary psychologist Anne Campbell says that the competition for status among males starts early in life.

She points out that girls prefer to cooperate while boys like to compete. Girls form small cliques for play, but boys tend to prefer playing team sports in big groups and they also indulge in far more rough-and-tumble play which establishes a dominance hierarchy lasting into adulthood. One study showed that a boy's status at the age of six predicts his status at 15.

Athletic ability and strength are important for establishing dominance, and already by high school, girls are attracted to athletic boys.

Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde and his colleagues at Laurentian University in Canada have suggested that male team players may be attractive to women because the team environment allows them to demonstrate qualities such as role acceptance and the ability to work with others – qualities that would be desirable in the context of parenting or in a long-term relationship.

But in the end status mattered more than the type of sport: women were more likely to want to have a single date, sex, or any kind of relationship, basically, with a man of high status regardless of whether the status was in the realm of a team sport, individual sport or something else altogether.

So, ladies, what do you fancy checking out this weekend? The talent on the pitch in Vienna, or Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and the rest of those gorgeous Wimbledon performers. Hmm, so hard to choose …