So, not everything you read in the media is necessarily true. Who would have thought it?
OK, I realise that that was a somewhat frivolous (not to mention trite) opening sentence for a post on a serious topic (and it also begins with the word ‘so’), but I stand by it. In these days of fake news one obviously has to approach any statement of fact with a critical eye, but that does not necessarily mean that a fact may be wholly right or wrong. Sometimes, as we shall see, the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. And it is always beneficial for there to be a healthy and open debate upon the matter.
Every two years when England play in an international tournament (provided, of course, that they qualify) we have been reminded by the media that the incidence of domestic violence increases on the days when England play. And in the (usually regular) event that England lose then the spike in domestic violence is even higher.
This sad connection between football and domestic violence appeared to have been accepted as a fact. However, a new study has thrown that into doubt.
I don’t know exactly when the possible connection between football and domestic violence was first established (incidentally, the link did not only apply to England games – it could also apply to any game which the abuser’s team lost), but it goes back at least to 2012. In that year a study by the Royal Statistical Society and the BBC found that there was an estimated 28% increase in incidents of domestic abuse on the day England won, and 32% on the day they lost.
There have also been other studies that support these findings. During the World Cup just gone the Pathway Project, a charity supporting people who are experiencing or affected by domestic abuse, ran an advert that pronounced that “Domestic Abuse rates increase by 38% when England lose”. That statistic came from a 2014 research paper by Lancaster University, which found that the number of domestic abuse incidents reported to police in Lancashire increased by 38% when England lost a match, compared to when they weren’t playing.
The new study that throws all of this into doubt comes from researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Glasgow and the University of Bristol. I haven’t read the full study, as sadly it does not seem to be freely available online. However, an article on the Glasgow School for Business and Society website tells us that:
“Scapegoating football as a trigger for domestic violence trivialises the issue and risks offering offenders an excuse for their behaviour, according to a UK study.”
“Reports linking a spike in cases with the outcome of Old Firm games and England’s World Cup performance lack reliable data and fail to recognise abuse is a pattern of ongoing behaviour.”
It goes on to tell us that:
“Previous studies have over-simplified the issue and discount a range of factors, including increased policing on match days, the large number of men who watch and support the sport, and different recording practices between police forces”
Dr Nancy Lombard, Reader in Sociology and Social Policy at Glasgow Caledonian University, is quoted as saying that participants in the study “highlighted concerns about the existing evidence and the need to view violence and abuse as a pattern of ongoing behaviour, which cannot be reduced to an incident associated with a particular event such as a football match.” She explained that specialist domestic violence and abuse providers “were concerned that focusing on football masks the underlying causes and potentially offers perpetrators excuses for their abusive behaviour.”
The authors of the study conclude that more could be done by governments, the media, and supporter agencies to promote anti-violence messaging through sport, and call on football clubs to use their mass appeal and reach to highlight the work of local domestic abuse services, and reinforce messages about ‘healthy’ non-abusing relationships.
I suppose in a sense whether or not football is a trigger for domestic violence does not really matter. After all, there is no excuse for domestic violence, whether it was triggered by a football match or some other cause. Still, anything that adds to our understanding of this important issue, and that brings it to the attention of the wider public, must be a good thing.