When England lost a FIFA World Cup match in 2014, incidents of domestic violence increased by 38 per cent. Even more shockingly, when they won or drew in the tournament, the number still increased by 26 per cent.
Then came a wave of warnings before Euro 2020, where a study published by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) found that, while domestic abuse decreases in the duration of the two hours in which the game is being played, it increases exponentially in its aftermath—with incidents peaking ten to 12 hours later. Shortly after it became clear that England had lost in the final match, the team’s black players were also subjected to horrible racist abuse online.
Now, a leading charity has raised concerns that incidents of domestic abuse will surge during the 2022 FIFA World Cup—with children at greater risk during the tournament.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) issued the warning after research discovered that calls made by vulnerable children to its helpline soared by a third to more than 1,000 during the 2018 World Cup.
While the NSPCC’s helpline received 1,060 child welfare calls about domestic abuse during the last tournament, Childline—overseen by the charity in question—saw a 17 per cent rise in the monthly average for counselling sessions for domestic abuse. The NSPCC hence warned “hundreds of thousands of children could be at risk” as the Qatar World Cup kicks off on 20 November 2022.
The charity also noted that stress levels, alcohol consumption, and gambling during the tournament could act as potential triggers to incidents of abuse or violence at home.
One 13-year-old girl who called during the 2018 Russia World Cup said: “My brother gets very aggressive when he drinks. He shouts at us for no reason and demands money from my mum. Today, after the England game, he came home drunk and hit my mum in the face, so I had to call the police. He’s been causing trouble for years.” The teenager then admitted that her sibling made her and her mother “scared all the time.”
The parent of another child who contacted the NSPCC’s helpline during the previous World Cup said: “My daughter’s best friend told me her dad is hitting her and her mum. He drinks a lot at the pub and then gets abusive and violent when he’s back home. I worry [that] my daughter and I can be identified if I tell children’s services. I don’t know what to do.”
FIFA has previously acknowledged the need for safeguarding and proactive action to protect people from harm and abuse, given sports spectatorship’s inextricable link with alcohol consumption. “Children (all those under 18) have specific rights to protection, as articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), because of their need to be cared for and owing to their dependency on others,” the governing body wrote on its website.
“FIFA also identifies young people over the age of 18, women, and persons with disabilities as especially vulnerable groups who must be safeguarded in the delivery of our game.” That being said, it can’t be ruled out that incidents of domestic abuse are likely to increase during future international tournaments… unless something changes.
As noted by Sky News, one-fifth of children in the UK have experienced severe maltreatment, including sexual abuse and domestic violence. Now, the NSPCC is calling for a new Victims Bill with specific support for child victims of domestic violence, including pre-trial therapy.
“The majority of fans across the country will enjoy the World Cup with friends and family but for many children living with domestic abuse it will bring nervousness, fear, and even violence,” said NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless. “Domestic abuse can decimate a child’s confidence and sense of security and without support it can have a devastating impact at the time and long into the future.”
A government spokeswoman went on to add, “Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime and we fully recognise the devastating impact it can have on children and young people. We are determined to better protect and support the victims of abuse, including children, and bring perpetrators to justice.”
“This year, we are increasing funding for the Children Affected by Domestic Abuse Fund, allocating more than £4 million to organisations providing specialist support to children experiencing domestic abuse.”
As chants of ‘it’s coming home’ echo throughout stadiums, crowded pubs and car radios, countless silent victims of domestic abuse will be coming home to something far more sinister. I’m not writing this piece to villainise the sport as a whole. I love football: it’s rich working-class history; it’s the power to bring communities together; its ability to bring nations together—I mean, it was the one thing that briefly stopped brutal trench warfare on 1914’s Christmas Day. But it’s also important to remember that, back in 2014, when England lost a game, incidents of domestic violence increased by 38 per cent. Even more shockingly, when they won, the number still increased by 26 per cent.
This was data taken from a study by Lancaster University which measured instances of domestic violence when England participated in the 2014 World Cup. But don’t think the same thinking process can’t be applied to the Euro 2020 too. Already, it’s estimated that 6.2 per cent of adults in England and Wales aged 16 to 59 have experienced domestic abuse in the year ending in March 2018—women are almost twice as likely to have reported the experience at 7.9 per cent than men at 4.2 per cent. This number is likely to increase during the current European football tournament, and future international competitions, unless something changes.
That being said, is the link between football and domestic abuse strong? Or are there other confounding variables that may influence the statistics? A more recent study conducted by the University of Warwick examined the issue in more detail and with a larger sample size to pin down what might be driving the association between national football tournaments and domestic abuse.
In a blog post for the London School of Economics, Anna Trendl, who is a scientist on the team at the University of Warwick, wrote: “While the link between football fandom and domestic abuse is complex, experts have long pointed to alcohol as an important factor in this relationship. Sport spectatorship and alcohol consumption are inextricably linked, and this is especially true in the context of English football fandom.”
And further data hints towards this being true. On the day of England’s quarter-final victory against Sweden in the 2018 World Cup, hospitals up and down the country reported a record number of alcohol poisoning cases. Several other studies have also highlighted the link between alcohol intoxication and violent behaviour. A report published by the Office of National Statistics in 2018 found that victims of violent crime in England and Wales believed that their perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol in 39 per cent of cases. This leads Trendl to argue that, although alcohol may not be the direct cause of violent behaviour, it acts as an aggravating factor by lowering inhibitions.
In the study, Trendl and her team analysed ten year’s worth of crime data from the West Midlands Police. They focused on England’s national football matches in this period, finding a 47 per cent increase in alcohol-related domestic abuse cases on days when the England teams won in a tournament and an 18 per cent increase on the days after an England match.
From the data, they argued that the link between England football victories and the increase in alcohol-related domestic abuse is likely to be causal. First off, on the days where England won matches, they saw a rise in only alcohol-related cases and not the control group. Likewise, they reported a clear pattern of increase in abuse—which started three hours before a match and peaked during the following hours before gradually declining. This highlights that there is a consistent link between football games and alcohol-related behaviour, a pattern that is replicated across different regions of the country.
Trendl writes: “The exact mechanism by which national football victories lead to an increase in the number of domestic abuse cases is evidently complex, and much of this remains unexplored. What this evidence shows us is that alcohol plays a key role in this relationship.”
So, while football is waking up to political issues such as taking the knee for the Black Lives Matter movement, the issue of domestic abuse, fuelled by alcohol but intertwined with the English football culture should also be brought into public discourse. By all means, enjoy the beautiful game—I’m rooting for England all the way—but this urgently important issue of domestic abuse needs to be addressed.