While for some the FIFA World Cup is an event that evokes excitement, for others, it induces feelings of dread and fear. Although I am an avid supporter of a national football team and a viewer of the World Cup myself, I recognize and emphasize that there is a correlation between World Cup viewership and domestic violence victimization.
The FIFA World Cup is one of the world’s largest and most watched sporting events. Every four years, 32 national football (soccer) teams around the world compete in the tournament for the title of FIFA champions. This year, the tournament is taking place in Qatar from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18. The event attracts loyal fans and remote viewers from around the world. However, as beautiful and entertaining as the tournament may be, the football competition has a dark side that goes unacknowledged — the prevalence of domestic violence.
Under the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act of 2004 (U.K.), domestic violence is defined as physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse perpetrated by and against an intimate partner. Gender-based domestic violence can encompass a wide range of acts, from the dissemination of sexist, misogynistic and derogatory comments toward a female partner, to physical assault, sexual assault and murder. According to a Women’s Aid (U.K.) research study, 24 per cent of adults in the United Kingdom feel that singing rude chants about women is acceptable, with 12 per cent believing it is acceptable in the context of a joke. Gender role expectations and stereotypes underpin violence against women, particularly domestic violence. This is why it is important to avoid taking gender stereotypes at face value and call out others for their misogynistic comments and behaviour. If you are a passive bystander who does not speak up against sexism, you contribute to the problem by normalizing, validating and entrenching sexist values. When sexist and misogynistic ideologies remain unchallenged, this creates the potential for these values to manifest into acts of aggression against women.
That being said, rates of domestic violence skyrocket each year during the World Cup. Allan Brimicombe, a Professor at the University of East London in the United Kingdom and Chair of the Crime and Justice Statistics Network, and Rebecca Cafe, a broadcast journalist with BBC News, state that “the excitement and adrenaline from watching a national team play may exacerbate tensions within a relationship, leading to loss of temper and to violence.” The adrenalin, excitement and disappointment experienced while watching a national team play a football match can lead to the exertion of aggression and violence onto an intimate partner. These intense emotions and feelings can subsequently be used by the abuser to justify and excuse their actions toward their partner.
In a 2014 study conducted by Stuart Kirby, Brian Francis, and Rosalie O’Flaherty from Lancaster University (U.K.) in the United Kingdom on domestic violence during the 2002, 2006, and 2010 World Cup’s, the findings suggest that the correlation between domestic violence and World Cup viewership is particularly strong in England, where domestic violence rises when the English national team plays a match. More specifically, a win or a draw caused domestic abuse to rise by 25 per cent, and a loss resulted in domestic abuse increasing by 38 per cent. In another study conducted in the United Kingdom in 2022 by Stuart Kirby, from Crime Insights Ltd in Lancashire (U.K.), and Nathan Birdsall, from the University of Central Lancashire (U.K.), the findings revealed that domestic abuse also increased dramatically during weekends and after the English national team was eliminated from the tournament. During the 2018 World Cup, England was defeated 2-1 by Croatia in the semi-final. According to England and Wales’ football policing system, after the game, there were 64 domestic abuse reports filed. Incidents like these led to England’s National Centre for Domestic Violence releasing a poster with the caption, “If England get beaten, so will she.” Moreover, a Women’s Aid spokesperson maintains that even the day after England plays a match, there is still an 11 per cent increase in domestic abuse reports.
The 2014 research study conducted by the three researchers at Lancaster University, reveals that alcohol consumption during the World Cup contributes to this violence. Ontario’s liquor regulator has permitted bars and restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 7:00 a.m. during the World Cup to account for early games due to the eight-hour time difference in Qatar. This normalizes the consumption of alcohol in the early hours of the morning and exacerbates substance use and domestic violence.
Domestic violence is also of particular concern now that the World Cup is taking place during the fall and winter seasons for the first time. Colder weather means more individuals will watch matches at home instead of going to public spaces like bars, restaurants and outdoor patio settings, and thus be in the presence of potentially violent partners. According to Cubmria Police in the United Kingdom, domestic tensions are also higher around the holiday season, a time of year when there is usually an increase in domestic abuse, as more time is spent alone with one’s partner.
The Women’s Aid “He’s Coming Home” campaign sheds light on the pertinence of domestic violence during the World Cup in England. The campaign derives its name from England’s famous “It’s Coming Home” song sung by English fans to indicate England will win the World Cup. For many families, the World Cup is a dreaded event as they fear excessive alcohol consumption and subsequent aggression and violence on part of their partners. A domestic abuse survivor shared that “for him, [the World Cup] was fun — for me, it was fear.” While the tournament is a time for excitement for some, the reality is that for many women and children, it is a time where they are walking on eggshells trying their best to avoid emotional abuse, threats of harm and physical and sexual violence from their partners. It is reported by Women’s Aid that around 90 per cent of children whose mothers have faced abuse witness the abuse. The effects of domestic violence are immensely far-reaching, traumatic and long-lasting.
To conclude, I argue that heightened emotions combined with alcohol consumption that arise from the viewing of FIFA World Cup games create a breeding ground for domestic violence.
It is important to mention that domestic violence is severely unreported, which is why it is so important to acknowledge the prevalence and seriousness of this issue. In Canada, domestic violence is also extremely widespread. According to the Government of Canada, 2018 self-reported data revealed that 44 per cent of women (6.2 million women) who had been in an intimate partner relationship at some point in their life, since the age of 15, have “reported experiencing some kind of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse” within their intimate partnership. Domestic violence is more common than some would like to think, and yet, there are many myths surrounding domestic violence that work to minimize the problem and discredit the experiences of victims. Domestic violence is never the victim’s fault. Victims do not provoke their abuser — only the abuser can be blamed for their actions. Furthermore, the cycle of abuse is complex, and the victim of domestic violence should never be blamed for not reporting their victimization or for not fleeing their abuser. There is never an excuse for abuse. Domestic violence is an issue that has no boundaries and can touch the lives of those you know even if you are not aware of it — your friend, family member, peer, a peer or friend’s family member; the list goes on.
So use this World Cup to reflect on this issue and what you can do in your own life to address and prevent domestic violence. Domestic violence is a global social issue that is prevalent whether or not it is World Cup season, meaning it requires the response of everyone to address violence against women — the burden should not be placed on victims to mitigate and eliminate this issue. If you can support your favourite soccer team, you can also support victims of domestic violence.