Scapegoating football as a trigger for domestic violence trivialises the issue and risks giving offenders an excuse for their behaviour, according to the first UK-wide study into the perceived link, led by two Scottish universities.
The research also questions reports linking a spike in cases after matches such as the Old Firm games and England’s recent World Cup performances, saying they lack reliable data.
Survivors, police, specialist support groups, football authorities, government organisations, policy makers and focus groups were interviewed for ‘Home game: domestic abuse and football’ co-authored by Dr Nancy Lombard of Glasgow Caledonian University and Dr Oona Brooks-Hay, of the University of Glasgow.
As well as disputing the link between football and domestic violence and abuse, (DVA) contributors also questioned the strength of other reported trigger factors, such as alcohol.
One policy maker said: “There’s a degree of scapegoating with alcohol because you don’t abuse just because you’ve had a drink – you abuse because you’re an abusive man who’s had a drink.”
The report says “Among participants, there was a perception that football is targeted in relation to the behaviour of fans and players in a way that other sports are not.”
One football organisation said football was primarily a working-class sport and that austerity and unemployment may be factors in the violence.
A total of 58,810 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by police in Scotland in 2016-2017 – a rise of 1 per cent from the previous year.
Dr Lombard, reader in sociology and social policy at Glasgow Caledonian University, said agencies for those experiencing DVA said such violence had underlying causes.
“All stakeholders had concerns about the reliability and implications of data suggesting a causal link between football and domestic violence and abuse.
“Participants highlighted concerns about the existing evidence and the need to view violence and abuse as a pattern of ongoing behaviour, which cannot be reduced to an incident associated with a particular event such as a football match.
“Specialist DVA service providers were concerned that focusing on football masks the underlying causes and potentially offers perpetrators excuses for their abusive behaviour.
“Research which suggests potential links between DVA and factors such as football or alcohol has proliferated, and links between them may be misinterpreted, misrepresented and misunderstood.”
The study, published in the Journal of Gender-Based Violence, calls on football clubs to use their mass appeal to highlight local DVA services and reinforce messages about ‘healthy’ relationships.
It cites Football United Against Domestic Violence, a Women’s Aid campaign working with players and fans in England, as a positive example of community work.