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When England finally achieved what was deemed the impossible (that is, getting more balls in a net) the nation seemed to rally. Wild celebrations ensued, cheers echoed throughout the streets and glasses were raised in every pub. It was a tense match that even I (the most uninterested football spectator) watched from start to finish. But there is a darker side to the beautiful game.
When the last goal was scored, the final whistle blown, and the stadium emptied out, many exhaled a sigh of relief, but countless women were still holding their breath, waiting for the beating to start.
You see whilst England may have won, women across the country are losing no matter what the outcome of the game, as research conducted by Lancaster University indicates that there are 26% more cases of domestic abuse when England win a match. This figure soars to an astounding 38% increase when we lose (which let’s face it, is a normality). Cases rise dramatically with each World Cup; levels peaking at 79.3% in the 2014 tournament. It is heart-breaking to think that a sporting event that enthuses so many and should be a source of entertainment is also a trigger for increased terror within the living rooms where it is watched.
Of course it would be wrong to simply equate football with fear. The choice to show hostility through physical attacks is caused by more than a football result. It is clear is that not every fan is an abuser and not every abuser is a fan, but contributing factors of the World Cup season, such as increased alcohol consumption and higher levels of tension, all equate to a more dangerous atmosphere. Furthermore, the football fan base can be accused of perpetuating this attitude through encouraging a toxic masculinity that thrives on competition and domination. From the aggressive attitudes of players on the pitch to the sexist chants that reverberate around the stadium, there is a culture within sport that belittles women and excuses macho violence as ‘banter’. This attitude is prevailing and all fans are responsible for stamping it out.
Organisations such as Football United Against Domestic Violence calls on footballing bodies to pledge their allegiance against domestic abuse and its links to sport. Many clubs have signed up, but it is also vital that the players lead by example. Footballers are often granted legendary status by their most ardent supporters, so to have their influential voices backing the campaign would be a huge boost to protecting women from suffering. Moreover, they should be aware that their conduct on the pitch is being observed by hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young children who will emulate their behaviour. Therefore, it is crucial that they send a positive message against all types of violence. Through this action, football can be a uniting sport and will truly become the beautiful game for everyone.