Study: Domestic Violence Increases After Major Sporting Events

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During the 2010 World Cup, rates of domestic violence in England increased by 30 percent. Except after ties.

world cup viol 615.jpgChristof Stache / AP

PROBLEM: We know that domestic violence rates spike during Christmas and New Year's. Following the 2006 World Cup (in which Italy defeated France in a shootout), the U.K.'s Home Office released a report claiming that domestic violence had risen during the tournament. Are sporting events really as emotionally fraught as the holidays?

METHODOLOGY: Professor Allan Brimicombe and BBC News journalist Rebecca Café applied more vigorous analysis to the Home Office's theory. Invoking England's Freedom of Information Act, they obtained statistics from police reports from the 2010 World Cup and the analogous, football-free period in 2009. In addition to studying the overall rate of domestic violence, they looked specifically at the outcomes of the tournament games, predicting that losses would spur more domestic disputes, while wins might be associated with joy, conviviality, and, consequently, fewer incidences of violence.

RESULTS: When England lost 4-1 to Germany, its "heaviest defeat at the World Cup finals," domestic violence rose by 31.5 percent. But a few days earlier, when hope for the championship was still alive and England defeated Slovenia, domestic violence also rose, by a similar 27.7 percent. 

Interestingly, when England tied Slovenia, incidences of violence only increased by 0.1 percent, and when its match against the U.S. ended in a draw, the domestic violence rate actually dropped by 1.9 percent.

CONCLUSION: Both dramatic wins and devastating losses during the World Cup were associated with significantly increased domestic violence in England, while ties didn't appear to have any effect.

IMPLICATIONS: As they did not examine the specific incidences of domestic violence, the authors can not conclude that violence was caused by the perpetrators' reactions to the tournament matches. And while the correlation is indicative of this being the case, they caution: "It is not that football tournaments cause the violence, but rather that the excitement, disappointment and flow of adrenalin resulting from watching a national team play may exacerbate existing tensions within a relationship and result in lost tempers and violence or abuse." And naturally, "Such behaviour may be made worse or more likely when alcohol has been consumed."

Although it's hard to imagine that the upcoming baseball World Series will inspire as much passion here as the World Cup does in the U.K., we should be on guard. If it can happen in the Nobel Peace Prize-holding European Union, it can happen anywhere.

The full study, "Beware, Win or Lose: Domestic Violence and the World Cup," is published in Significance.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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