Domestic Violence Increases After Major Sporting Events: Study

Rain covers the field during heavy rain prior to the World Cup Group H qualifying soccer match between England and Poland in
Rain covers the field during heavy rain prior to the World Cup Group H qualifying soccer match between England and Poland in the National Stadium in Warsaw, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Sports fans are known for being passionate and rowdy, perhaps none more so than fans of international soccer. One doesn't have to look too far to find examples of "football hooliganism" in the recent past.

Now, a British study has found a startling correlation between spikes in domestic violence and high-tension sporting events, a link previously discussed following the 2006 World Cup. After England's shootout loss to Portugal in the quarterfinals, domestic violence increased by more than 30%, according to a 2010 report released by the U.K. Home Office.

Conducted by statistician Allan Brimicombe and BBC News reporter Rebecca Café, the recent study built on the Home Office's findings, analyzing police reports and statistics from the 2010 World Cup and comparing them to data from the analogous period in 2009. Following England's 4-1 loss to Germany, "the most lopsided England loss in a World Cup," domestic violence rose by 31.5 percent. However, domestic violence also increased dramatically after England's previous match -- a 1-0 victory over Slovenia. On the other hand, domestic violence remained steady after draws, increasing by only 0.1 percent after England's scoreless draw with Algeria and actually decreasing by 1.9 percent following a 1-1 tie with the United States.

Why would a win incite as much violence as a loss, while tie games have little to no effect? While the researchers acknowledge that a match's outcome certainly would raise the level of frustration, they also explore the idea that extreme emotion of any kind is what actually pushes the aggressor to the breaking point:

It is not unexpected that everything depends on the outcome of the match, but the way that dependency shows itself is not so expected. Violence in the home on big match days certainly increases if England lose. It certainly also goes up on big match days if England win. Win or lose, there will be a significant increase in the rate of reported domestic violence. But if England draw, the rate of domestic violence does not increase. One might have thought that a draw would heighten frustration, which might be taken out on partners; psychologists would have to tell us if instead it flattens emotion to a more apathetic state.

Brimicombe and Café also give a slight nod to the role of increased alcohol consumption on match days:

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. Such behaviour may be made worse or more likely when alcohol has been consumed.

Though the study focuses on England during the World Cup, the link between domestic violence and sports has also been examined in the United States. A 2011 study conducted by the National Institues of Health examining 900 NFL games over 11 years found that domestic violence increased by 10 percent in areas in which the local team had suffered an upset -- 20 percent if the loss came at the hands of a traditional rival.

Brimicombe and Café's study, Beware, win or lose: Domestic violence and the World Cup, was published in the October 2012 issue of Significance.