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What is the relationship between domestic abuse and football?

  • Blog
  • 13th Dec 2022

Throughout the 2022 FIFA World Cup, we’re publishing a series of blogs about the intersection of behavioural insights and football. This is the fourth in the series and explores domestic abuse and football.

One in four women will be affected by domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Experiencing this kind of violence can have negative emotional, physical and financial effects, including an 18% decrease in lifetime earnings and a 42% increase in time spent receiving welfare benefits.

Unfortunately, reports of domestic violence in the UK surge during football competitions such as the World Cup and European Championships. Estimates vary, but this rise in reports has been found to be somewhere between 25%–50%. 

Why is this increase in domestic violence happening? It’s critical to rigorously research issues like this because the more we know, the better we can develop strategies to solve it – and encourage peaceful behaviours.

What does the evidence say?

The early evidence is clear – there is a correlation between domestic violence and football. Researchers have observed that the number of domestic abuse reports rose by 26% when the English national team won or drew and increased by 38% when the national team lost. 

With this fact established, some have explored its nuances. Dickson et al. and Ivandić et al. identified a substitution effect where domestic violence calls actually decrease during matches. This suggests that perpetrators may be sufficiently distracted by the game or are away from their partners, and therefore, not committing abuse. However, both studies also found rises of reported domestic violence before and after matches.

Understanding football-related domestic abuse from all angles will be critical to designing, testing and scaling solutions that will have a massive effect on women’s safety

But what actually causes domestic abuse around televised football events? Some hypotheses include: the day of the week matches take place, emotional arousal, and alcohol consumption influencing rates of violence. 

Crowley et al. found that domestic violence occurs even during weekday matches, suggesting that its main driver is not related to the day that games are played. Crowley and their colleagues have also identified factors that contribute to emotional arousal, which could in turn lead to violence: pre-match expectations, how important the match is, and the importance of the opposition.

However, when Ivandić et al. attempted to disentangle alcohol from emotional arousal, they found that increases in football-related domestic violence appeared to be almost exclusively driven by alcohol consumption. Trendl et al. saw a similar increase in other alcohol-related violent crimes, as well as no increase in non-alcohol related domestic violence, further supporting this finding.

Shifting kick-offs and alcohol consumption may reduce violence

Ivandić et al. have discovered that the time a match is played can have a significant impact on domestic violence rates. Specifically, they found that matches with early kick-offs (ie before 7pm) have much higher levels of violence compared to late kick-offs (ie after 7pm). They hypothesise this increase is primarily driven by the fact that an earlier kick-off allows for longer alcohol consumption after the match has finished.

Therefore, a solution to consider for reducing football-related domestic violence could be shifting matches to later in the day. Granted, this may be difficult to implement at the start of tournaments (given the number of matches that need to be played) and during international competitions like the World Cup, which are broadcast live across time zones. 

It may also counter other timing considerations, such as making it easier for children to watch or ensuring spectators can get home safely on public transport. Therefore, when kick-off times cannot be shifted, policy makers must consider when (and how) early matches should be televised, as we discuss below.

If findings from Ivandić et al. and Trendl et al. are accurate, and alcohol is the main driver of football-related domestic violence, then policies around alcohol restriction should be strongly considered. As mentioned above, we have to think about when and how matches should be televised. It could be that if matches are only available at pubs, then viewers will consume less alcohol than they would watching at home.

We could take this even further by only allowing schools or community centres to televise matches. Whether matches with early kick-offs should be televised at all should also be considered.

A call for more research 

Despite these important insights, we need to learn more about the factors causing football-related domestic violence. Specifically, we must better understand:

  1. How emotional arousal contributes to increases in domestic violence and the factors that cause emotional arousal (eg the role of pre-match expectations and the impact of betting on matches).
  2. If greater police presence that people might observe during matches deters abusers because they fear being caught, and whether more law enforcement influences reports to emergency services. A better methodology to identify football-related domestic violence aside from emergency service data will be needed to explore this.
  3. If increases in domestic abuse are seen in other sports, or are isolated to football. One study of American football found that upset losses (defeats when the home team was predicted to win) correlated with a 10% increase in domestic violence reported after the game. However, because the US context is different from the UK, we must find out if a similar increase is observed in UK-based sports. We must also understand if any observed increases in domestic violence across other sports are driven by similar factors as the football-related rise.

Football is the most popular sport in the world. FIFA estimates five billion fans are tuning in to the 2022 World Cup alone. Understanding football-related domestic abuse from all angles will be critical to designing, testing and scaling solutions that will have a massive effect on women’s safety. We welcome partners who are up to the challenge. Contact us here.

Non-governmental organisations have raised various human rights issues related to this year’s World Cup. For further reading on these issues and calls to action, see here.

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