Viking sperm-sales are plummeting right now

The other banking crisis.

Travelling on the London Underground in recent years you have most likely seen pictures of cute, blonde babies along with the slogan “Congratulations, it’s a Viking!” plastered across the ad. The advertisement is for the Danish sperm bank Cryos, the biggest of its kind in the world.

Cryos, along with other Danish sperm banks, has been marketing Danish sperm heavily across the UK, and demand for the popular Viking “donations”, has been on the rise. The amount of UK women buying Danish sperm has grown by about 40 per cent every year since 2005, according to one Danish insemination clinic and Cryos estimates that about 10 per cent of their sperm is exported to UK clients and clinics.

A shortage of sperm elsewhere, combined with differing rules about donor anonymity from country to country, means that Denmark, which can offer both anonymous and non-anonymous sperm and can deliver it directly to individuals across the EU rather than simply to licensed clinics, is an increasingly popular destination for women seeking to become pregnant.

Since the UK made it illegal to donate sperm anonymously in 2005, the shortage of British sperm has been daunting, forcing more and more British women to look towards other countries. Thanks to its liberal laws on sperm donation, Denmark has enjoyed the brunt of this demand.

But recent events might put a stop to the Viking baby invasion. Danish laws on donation have recently been tightened after a donor was found to have passed on a rare genetic condition to at least five of the 43 babies he has fathered. Now, potential donors are interviewed, their health evaluated and their history of disease is checked – making it harder to just walk in and donate.

Far more critical is the high-profile court case, where a UK mother bought DIY sperm from Cryos and proceeded to impregnate her 14-year old adoptive daughter with the sperm. After a miscarriage, the daughter gave birth to a donor-child at the age of 16. Now the EU and Danish politicians are looking to reform the Danish laws on sperm-donation and sales, making it harder for potential mothers and fathers to acquire the popular Viking-sperm. The question is now, whether the sperm banks have a responsibility to ensure that sperm sold to individuals isn’t misused. When potential parents buy sperm through an insemination clinic, they are screened and questioned on their parenting skills – individuals buying DIY sperm are not put through the same process.

But what will this do the UK demand for Viking sperm? Marketing in London has been put on hold temporarily as the court case runs its course and sperm-sales are encountering their first slump in over seven years. In the meantime, it is clear that Danish politicians are moving towards more regulation of the Danish sperm industry. With a potential sperm-draught ahead, it might be worth considering a liberalisation of UK laws. If not for reproductive reasons, then consider the economic potential. Sperm-tourism has been on a steady rise in Denmark for the past ten years, resulting in considerable revenue growth for sperm banks and insemination clinics. Cryos, for instance, doubled their revenue within their first five years. In a time of austerity, isn’t any market with high demand worth delving into?

Can't be good for them. Photograph: Getty Images

Sandra Kilhof Nielsen is a reporter for Retail Banker International, Cards International & Electronic Payments International.

 

Getty
Show Hide image

The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era