The Dreaded Times of the Year

Sporting Events

In the winter of 1993, a controversial press release caused a great furore in American media. Incidents of domestic violence were reported to be at a higher level on Super Bowl Sunday than at any other time of the year. Following a feverish debate, involved parties agreed to disagree, as a direct link could be neither proved nor disproved. Almost thirty years on, the world still awaits a proper in-depth study into the correlation between sporting events and intimate partner violence. However, all researchers on this topic agree on the role that the unholy trinity of sport, alcohol and toxic masculinity can play in enabling violence.

Whilst the treatment of migrant workers at Qatar’s World cup may well be floodlit by the media’s glare, the issue of violence against women during sporting events still lurks beneath the stands in terms of its place in the public consciousness. This is unfortunate, as figures reveal intimate partner violence (defined by the World Health Organisation as behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours) is reaching endemic proportions. Globally, 30% of women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner and as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.

Studies from various parts of the world indicate that disappointment on the sports field can lead to an increase in violence in the domestic arena. We are not just talking about sore losers either; in some cases, even a draw, when a win was anticipated, can provoke an outlash. Furthermore, studies in the UK have shown an increase in reports of domestic violence being given to police even after matches were won; fuelled by celebratory alcohol consumption.

Very limited research data exists worldwide, with the focus mainly on the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia across the sports of American football, football and hockey, but what there is available is very revealing. According to researchers at Lancaster University, domestic violence calls rose by 26 percent on days when the English national team played in the World Cup in 2002, 2008, and 2012. When they lost, calls increased by 38 percent.

During the latest World Cup football frenzy, women at risk of domestic violence will have little to cheer about. The figures speak for themselves; 8 million viewers in the UK tuned in to watch England’s World Cup opener against Iran (despite a Monday lunchtime kick off) and these figures coupled with the fact that 1 in 3 women have faced intimate partner violence do not bode well. The knock-on effects of such a football event could be devastating, particularly taking into consideration the taboos surrounding any mention of intimate partner violence in many parts of the world combined with the non-existent services for survivors to access help. Away from the cheers and excitement, many women face a month of silent suffering.

Holiday season

On the other side of the world, as early as October, domestic violence services in North America start getting ready for the season of holidays, but not in the traditional way of colour-matching decorations and practicing carols. Helpline staff there are well aware that not every household will have a picture-perfect Thanksgiving and Christmas. While some people are busy choosing turkeys and stuffings, others are struggling to pay basic bills and such holidays only add further financial pressure. This, combined with the victim being stranded at home with their abuser, might be considered catalysts for a flare up of violence. Again, not enough data has been collected on this and, in fact, the quantity of calls to domestic violence helplines can actually drop during holidays. This is due to the limited unmonitored access the victim may have to the resources needed to make contact. Even a simple phone call may be out of their reach. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) states that, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Over a year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. These statistics only worsen over the holiday period. On average, police interventions related to domestic violence rise by 20% in December. In 2020, the UK children’s charity NSPCC estimated that at least 15,000 children were living in a household where domestic abuse took place during the 2 weeks of Christmas. What about the countries, where there is no collection of these statistics?!

Whilst most people use the festive period as an excuse to over-indulge on chocolates, cheese and puddings, abusers use the holidays as an excuse too – for their criminal activities. Neither holidays nor sporting events should ever been seen as a valid justification for domestic violence. Neither is there any justification in shifting blame for these crimes from individual perpetrators to other issues such as problems with anger management, financial pressure, family dynamics, a ready availability of alcohol or simply a culture of toxic masculinity. Abuse is not seasonal; it does not finish with the twelve days of Christmas. Violent abuse is perennial and comes in many different wrappings – physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, verbal, or financial.

For every goal scored this football season or with every present unwrapped there is a potential victim somewhere, getting slapped, on the receiving end of a tirade of coercive abuse or even worse – getting hurt or killed. We are dealing with a seemingly incurable endemic of domestic violence worldwide. There is no magic pill or shot – only if personal responsibility is taken to recognise abuse, offer help, and report violence can things ever change. Simply knocking on your neighbour’s door to borrow a cup of sugar could save someone’s life.

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