7 August 2018
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.
The findings are included in the first in-depth study of the perceived link between football and domestic violence and abuse (DVA), carried out by researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Glasgow and the University of Bristol.
They looked at it from the point-of-view of survivors, police, specialist support groups, football authorities, government organisations and policymakers, in Scotland and England.
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, researchers conclude.
DVA support groups also stressed abusive behaviour is about power and control and the contributory factors are complex.
However, football as the UK’s national sport has a social responsibility to highlight the issue in a similar way clubs support campaigns against racism and homophobia, according to stakeholders.
Dr Nancy Lombard, Reader in Sociology and Social Policy at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: "All stakeholders had concerns about the reliability and implications of data suggesting a causal link between football and domestic violence and abuse.
"Participants 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.
"Specialist DVA service providers were concerned that focusing on football masks the underlying causes and potentially offers perpetrators excuses for their abusive behaviour.
"Research which suggests potential links between DVA and factors such as football or alcohol has proliferated, and links between them may be misinterpreted, misrepresented and misunderstood."
Focus groups and one-to-one interviews were conducted in Scotland and England for the study, which was co-authored by Dr Oona Brooks-Hay, of the University of Glasgow, and Dr Emma Williamson, of the University of Bristol, and was published in the Journal of Gender-Based Violence.
As well as disputing the link between football and DVA, contributors also questioned the strength of other reported trigger factors.
One policymaker told researchers: "Again, there’s a degree of scapegoating with alcohol because you don’t abuse just because you’ve had a drink - you abuse because you’re an abusive man who’s had a drink."
The authors conclude more could be done by governments, the media, and supporter agencies to promote anti-violence messaging through sport.
Dr Emma Williamson , from the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, added: "This project was important because it allowed all stakeholders to express their views and despite coming from different directions, stakeholders were in general agreement about their view that blaming football for abuse was wrong and unhelpful.
"All stakeholders felt that there was immense opportunity within sport, and football in particular, to help challenge abusive behaviours but that too little is understood about reporting to rely on mixed statistics which sometimes suggest a link."
The findings call on football clubs to use their mass appeal and reach to highlight the work of local DVA services and reinforce messages about ’healthy’ non-abusing relationships.
The study cites Football United Against Domestic Violence, a Women’s Aid campaign which provides resources and training to players and fans in England, as a positive example of community work.