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Domestic Violence: The Dark Side Of The World Cup

Real men watch football. Real men drink beer. Real men don’t hit women.

Since the dawning of time, thousands of overarching statements about what constitutes a ‘real man’ have been spouted. From cavemen to suave, suited-and-booted businessmen, real men are difficult to define.

But during the World Cup season, a league of the archetypal, alcohol-guzzling, muscle-man football fan emerges. Impassioned by the game, emotions and unfortunately quite often, tempers run high.

The World Cup is a time where the definition of a ‘real man’ goes back to a base version of masculinity, whose ideals are espoused in sports and alcohol. And unfortunately, with the emergence of the ‘World Cup Man’ comes a terrible increase in domestic violence. Research in the UK has, over the years, recurrently highlighted a positive correlation between domestic violence and the World Cup. In response, there have been several campaigns created to highlight the issue.

Lancaster University Domestic Violence Study

A study conducted by Dr. Stuart Kirby and Professor Brian Francis of Lancaster University showed a link between domestic violence and football. Researchers analysed figures across the three tournaments in 2002, 2006 and 2010. The numbers are shockingly high – in some areas, incidents of domestic abuse rose by nearly 40% when England lost. And what’s even more surprising is, there was still a 26% increase in violence even when England won or drew.

The research also shows that the trend has been worsening with each World Cup since 2006. This year alone West Yorkshire Police received almost double the number of calls reporting abuse after England’s first game against Italy. Even more disturbingly, officers responded to shocking 21 extra incidents in Kent on the weekend of England’s first game.

Police note a 40% rise in incidents of domestic abuse during the World Cup season

But what is the cause of the increase in domestic violence during the World Cup season? Researchers at Lancaster University attribute it to a combination of the stress-induced violence and alcoholism:

“The tournament is held in the summer and is associated with warmer temperatures, increased alcohol consumption and brings individuals in closer proximity to others. Although it is difficult to say the tournament is a causal factor, the prestigious tournament does concentrate the risk factors into a short and volatile period, thereby intensifying the concepts of masculinity, rivalry and aggression.” 

The overly macho culture which emerges around the World Cup season is encouraged by male camaraderie, all set to a football-shaped backdrop. As a result, a sense of masculinity increases during the World Cup; testosterone levels sore and with it, in some cases, comes the subjugation of women. Overt masculinity can encourage misogyny, and women revert to being ‘commodities’.

In general, football can encourage violence, particularly amongst those with already volatile personalities. So not only do perceptions of women deteriorate, but a display of masculinity can sometimes manifest itself in violence. Pent up aggression developed by disappointment at a team losing and passion for the game often reveals itself in fits of violence.

In football history, there have been many cases of violent behaviour both on and off the pitch. Earlier this week, Uraguay’s striker Luis Suárez was cautioned for biting his opponent Giorgio Chiellini – this is Suárez third biting offence in his career. Luckily for Chiellini, a referee was on hand to intervene. In general, there will always be a referee on the pitch, ready to hold up a red card for unfair play. But for women who suffer domestic abuse, this is obviously not the case.

It is important to note, however, that not all football fans suddenly turn into domestic violence monsters at the stroke of midnight on the eve of the World Cup. Nor does it mean that women don’t suffer abuse at the hands of their partners outside of the World Cup. However, with the popularity of the tournament and the figures showing an increase in violence, it is the perfect opportunity to capitalise on the chance to raise awareness about such an important issue.

Football United Against Domestic Violence

Charity Women’s Aid has launched a ‘Football United Against Domestic Violence’ campaign. Polly Neate, Chief Execuitve of Women’s Aid told us why they launched the initiative:

“Football doesn’t cause domestic violence, but there a rise in reporting of domestic violence around the time of the World Cup can be linked to reasons why existing domestic violence may become more frequent or severe. An increase in the consumption of alcohol and the increased emotion around the tournament may lead to more abuse in relationships where domestic violence is already present. However, it is no excuse and there are many people who watch the World Cup, drink alcohol and feel passionately about the result but who would never consider abusing their partner, either physically or emotionally. This is why we have launched ‘Football United Against Domestic Violence’ – to unite the majority of players, clubs and fans who are opposed to abuse of all kinds and show domestic violence the red card.”

Domestic violence does not begin and end with the World Cup, however the tournament is a great tool to reach out to the macho-men who may not have even thought about the issue. And hopefully the message of the awareness campaign to ‘leave striking to the players’ will continue long after the World Cup is over.



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