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Abuse In The Time Of Footy

Abuse In The Time Of Footy

Last week was the final of the UEFA cup. England was in the final but didn’t win. Personally, I was rooting for Italy partly due to my aversion to English football hooliganism, and partly out of revenge for the fact that Boris Johnson let the whole of England celebrate football in the middle of a pandemic (while police showed up to Sarah Everard’s vigil of 500 people in riot gear.)

Yes, unfortunately England lost the footy. And it cost women around the country.

Studies show that when England plays football, the rate of domestic abuse rises to 26% when England win or draw a match, and even higher to 38% when they lose. Nobody wants England to win more than women. Because they’re the ones that reap the consequences.

Now, to be fair, it could be that there’s an increased police presence and therefore more chance of detection, and it could be that there’s more people hanging out together so there’s a larger chance that someone reports domestic abuse. But the numbers don’t lie.

The main trigger seems to be alcohol, with a 47% increase in alcohol-related abuse on the days when England wins, and 18% the day after the match. After 24 hours, the abuse rate gradually recedes to normal levels, which is a clear sign that men (or maybe even women) are taking out their frustration and excitement on their partners or families. If we look at the data supplied by the West Midlands Police (the second largest police force in the UK), we notice that abuse rates jump in the 3 hours leading up to the game, peaks in the 3 hours following the game, and then gradually returns to normal in the following 24 hours.

As a big rugby fan, I like to follow the mindset of Winston Churchill: that rugby is a hooligan’s game played and watched by gentlemen, and soccer is a gentleman’s game played and watched by hooligans – but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

In the UK and New Zealand, there is no evidence of a jump in abuse cases on the days that the home teams played in rugby tournaments if they won, drew, or lost (phew!), but that’s not true for all rugby matches.

In Scotland there was a clear correlation between domestic abuse cases and rugby matches, as cases in Glasgow for club rugby rose by up to 80% on match days.

In NSW Australia, there’s a 40% increase in domestic violence for the State of Origin series for Rugby League, and a 70% jump in non-domestic violence across the state of New South Wales. However, in the neighbouring state of Victoria, who aren’t as interested in rugby league, there is no clear link between domestic abuse and the sport.

It’s hard not to think about the women that will be punched, kicked, verbally and sexually abused in the time of football culture. You only have to turn on the television and watch the fanatics beat each other up after a big game to blow off steam, only for them to eventually go home to their wives, girlfriends, and families with energy still to burn.

What causes this environment? Every November, I go to the All Blacks vs. Lions game in Twickenham, and as a staunch All Blacks fan, I have never felt unsafe, never seen a fight nor even a scuffle. I brought a particularly rowdy friend to a World Cup game in 2015, and to my absolute dismay he screamed and cursed horrific comments at the players. The middle-aged men in front of me turned around and gave him some condescending looks.
“Simmer down,” one of them said, “This is rugby, not football.”
I have never wanted the ground to swallow me so much.

Behaviour like this stands out like a sore thumb in everyday life, but for some reason, when the footy is on, it’s deemed acceptable behaviour. So much so, that the police are standing by in riot gear, but ultimately do nothing due to the overwhelming amount of people acting out of order. It’s up to the police to impose harsher punishments on those acting out of line. We know that there is going to be ample fighting around Wembley – why not increase the amount of officers and arrest the hooligans involved in violence? Only 86 people were arrested on Sunday, out of the thousands involved in violent activity.

The fact is, it’s simply not done in rugby culture that we are so amped up about a game that we take it out on other fans, and other people around us. We watch 120 kilo men run full tilt at each other for 80 minutes; we watch the forwards withstand 1 ton of pressure up their spines every time there’s a scrum; we watch 6-foot-plus men throw all their weight and momentum at someone just for possession of a rugby ball, and at the end of the game, we all smile and go home. What a great game that was!

Not every English person who loves football is a football hooligan. Most of them are passionate, empathetic, patriotic human beings who love their country, love the sport, and are happy to watch the game to support their team (albeit walking home via the kebab shop very grumpily when they lose).

But football hooliganism in the UK is still a huge problem. For some reason, England being in the UEFA final allows people to trash public spaces, break windows, and take their rowdiness home to abuse their domestic partners, all before the game has even started.

After the game, it’s not unheard of to have a few stabbings outside of Wembley stadium. People really love Harry Kane enough that they’re willing to murder others to protect his name? Is this a duel in the 1800’s? How many people need to be injured before we impose harsher measures around sporting events? If you’re not going to behave and foster a safe environment for an exciting sport, then you shouldn’t be allowed to go.

The strongest cause for the sharp rise in abuse cases during sporting events is alcohol. Beer and spectator events are match made in heaven, until it turns excessive, and people start to lose their minds. For the UEFA final, some people started drinking as early as 11 a.m. with the game to start at 8 p.m. – that’s a lot of booze. Alcohol not only helps us lose our inhibitions, but also dampens activity in the brain where we receive social cues. We might find ourselves in confrontations that we normally wouldn’t be involved in if sober – and paired with an environment of heightened emotions and fanaticism, it’s easy enough for A + B to equal violence.

For cowards, violence in the home is the option of least resistance – they can release their anger and emotions through violence towards someone who might not hit back. Outside Wembley stadium, you’re much more likely to have someone retaliate with violence – and have others join in. Not that hooligans don’t do that anyway – a viral video making the rounds on Twitter shows English fans beating English and Italian fans alike – inside the stadium! The jury’s out whether it was before the match beating some gate-crashers, or after the match beating Italian fans, but an official statement has come out from Wembley saying there was no security breach during the game…

What is it about sports – particularly soccer – that brings out the worst in us? Domestic abuse, gang violence, vandalism, verbal harassment, racism (even at the players – we are all rooting for you Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, kia kaha), why does this happen most often during soccer games? Wimbledon was on at the same time – and there were no scenes like this, and no rise of domestic abuse because Andy Murray lost in the third round!

At the end of the day, sporting is a livelihood for some, but for most of us it’s just a form of entertainment. It’s just a game! There is no excuse for people to be assaulting others, especially their loved ones, and especially over a football game.

How can we lower the domestic abuse rate? Perhaps more limitations on alcohol during matches, and harsher consequences for those who involve themselves in violence. At any rate, something needs to change. If you’re violently abusing others because you’re upset about the way someone is kicking a plastic ball up and down a field, you need a reality check – and prison.

Image via Irving Penn for American Vogue 2002