No doubt you are familiar with the famous phrase “football is a gentleman’s game played by thugs, and rugby a thug’s game played by gentlemen” or words to that effect. It may refer to the players, but does it apply to the fans too?
With our Facebook feeds currently clogged by hopeful and disappointed World Cup commentary, we see them, in all shapes, sizes; and levels of dedication: the fans who live and die by football. Fans who would have liked an England win, and are far less concerned with their mortgage, family or pet goldfish. Everyone needs a hobby, and if football is your poison, then fine. And yet sometimes football becomes more than just a game.
National research has indicated that domestic violence increases during the World Cup: research from the 2006 World Cup shows that incidents of domestic abuse increased by nearly 30 per cent on England match days. Consequently, police in West Yorkshire, Cumbria, Cleveland, Northumbria and Durham have now launched campaigns designed to help raise awareness of the issue, to try and curb that trend. But is this enough?
The police have also discovered a link between alcohol consumption and domestic violence (no great surprise there). “But it’s the World Cup”, I can hear the punters argue, “the footy’s on, we can enjoy a beer or two with the game.” Football, and other high profile sports events like the World Cup have become an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. Shouting, swearing, rioting in public. Aggression, racism, abuse. When “but it’s the World Cup” becomes a viable excuse for such behaviour, the line between having a bit of fun with friends and violent abuse apparently becomes less tangible.
The psychology behind football fans’ behaviour is interesting: the idea that the fans bask in the reflected glory of their chosen team’s success can also be inverted if they lose. Diehard fans see themselves as failures if their team does not win. When disappointment turns to abuse, no one should have to live in fear that their country will lose. Power relations, control issues, extreme patriarchal views, sexism, branded as ‘sporting disappointment’ has clearly been added to this list of causes for domestic abuse – when watching sports becomes a dangerously provocative activity, you know society is in trouble.
There is never any excuse for domestic violence, so what is sickening is how it appears here that such excuses are being invented where any justification is sought. Enjoy the football, support your team, get involved. But take after Cumbria Constabulary, and give domestic violence the red card.