Do Sports Events Like the World Cup Create a Perfect Storm for Violence Against Women?

-- By Gail Cooper and Isabel Jenkins --

The men’s 2014 World Cup, which FIFA has identified as one of the most widely viewed sporting events worldwide, is drawing to a close. Though not the most violent, the event (and the sport) has had its share of violence unfold both on the field and among fans celebrating or mourning a match’s outcome. Studies show that this violence is not specific to the World Cup or to football, with sporting culture overall shown to have a negative effect on gender relations.

Teenage boys who play football, basketball or both were almost twice as likely as non-athlete boys to have recently abused their girlfriends, found a study published by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg of UPMC. The study also suggested that athletes who play revenue-generating sports perceive that their social status places them above normal standards of conduct. This thinking may have played a part in the recent Steubenville High School rape case, wherein, as reported by the Daily News, one of the perpetrators believed his status as a high school football star would protect him from punishment.  

Most male college athletes agreed in a written survey that forcing a woman to have sex is considered rape, according to a study published in the Journal of Women and Social Work. Researchers concluded that when student athletes interacted with their teammates in the focus groups, they revealed rape-supportive attitudes and victim-blaming tendencies. For example, one participant agreed that “Some girls…who are playful… their no, it really means yes.” Another said, “I honestly always think it’s their fault” when asked about the rape of girls who dress provocatively and consume a lot of alcohol.

Sport culture can lead to violent behavior among fans and non-athletes as well. A report published by the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency suggests that the World Cup and similar major sporting events are the backdrop for increased levels of domestic violence throughout the United Kingdom. Trust for London, a British nongovernmental organization, reports that sporting events like the World Cup create a perfect storm for already abusive men to engage in domestic violence.

A study published in 2012 in Significance compared police reports from the 2010 World Cup and its corresponding non-World Cup period in the UK in 2009. After one high-stakes match in which England lost to Germany, domestic violence reports increased by 32 percent from their 2009 average. When England defeated Slovenia, reports rose 28 percent. Researchers point to various components of “game- time culture” that might contribute to increased risk of violence by perpetrators. They include increased alcohol consumption, sexualization and subordination of women, aggression in sporting events, and hypermasculinity, or inflated stereotypical male behavior. Likewise, high consumption of alcohol, notes Alcohol Concern, is causally linked to increased reports of violence.

UK-based groups like Tender Education have launched campaigns to draw attention to the issue, urging communities to speak out about domestic violence and to be aware of what it looks like. Tender Education’s PSA uses the hashtag #StandUpWorldCup and reminds viewers, “No one wanted England to win more than women.” Women’s Aid, an organization based in the UK that works to end violence against women and children, is collaborating with the Premier League to launch a domestic violence campaign to, among other things, start healthier conversations with athletes and fans alike about women during the tournament .

It is not all bad news, however. For example, increased human trafficking for the sex trade has long been considered an unfortunate side effect of the World Cup. Contrary to this popular belief, such a correlation is unclear, finds Bangkok-based non-governmental conglomerate Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. Predictions that the German and South African World Cups would each create 40,000 human trafficking victims were found to be unsubstantiated. Germany’s Federal Criminal Office reported that only five human trafficking cases were directly connected to the 2006 World Cup, and a documentary about the South African world cup, called Don’t Shout Too Loud, suggested that the overestimation was popularized to aid political agendas. 

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