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The link between sport and domestic violence

Wendy Ward


Domestic Violence

As I write, England are through to the semi-finals of Euro 2020. Whilst this is great for the nation and its sporting prowess on the world stage, it’s not so good for victims of domestic abuse.

Statistics from Women’s Aid show that cases of domestic abuse rise when the England team plays—an issue documented during previous major football tournaments and sporting occasions.

The outcome of the game is significant: if the national team loses, domestic incidents rise by 38%. Even if they were to win a game, domestic abuse cases still soar by 26%.

Those behind the research make it clear that football isn’t the cause of violence in the home; however, according to Teresa Parker, head of communications for Women’s Aid, ‘big matches can be a catalyst for an uplift in reports, and an exacerbation of existing abuse.’

The first lockdown proved horrific for victims (Refuge recorded a 60% increase in calls to the organisation). Their abusers were around all the time, as no one was allowed to leave their home. With few opportunities for perpetrators to vent or let off steam, victims took the brunt of their frustration, and the number of domestic violence incidents went through the roof. The emphasis on the virus also meant that some victims didn’t seek medical help for their injuries, believing the hospitals were already overwhelmed with Covid cases.

It wasn’t just women who were victims, either; Respect is a charity that provides a support line for male victims of domestic abuse, and they reported a 70% increase in calls during lockdown. These organisations are keen to impress that the figures represent known cases—many incidents aren’t reported.

Within weeks, fleeing from a domestic violence situation to safety was amongst the few reasons where social distancing rules could be broken. Had Euro 2020 run when it was meant to, the figures could have been even more grim.

Man watching Sport

Man watching Sport

During large tournaments, alcohol is often consumed. Whilst most people can enjoy a drink without any negative consequences, it often fuels the actions of perpetrators. Heightened emotions and adrenaline in their veins can prove difficult for them to control. Unfortunately, it’s their partner and/or children who pay the price.

Donna Jones, Hampshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, confirms this. She says, ‘The police generally see an increase in domestic abuse through the summer months and an increase in alcohol during events like the Euros is likely a contributing factor [to further cases of domestic abuse].’ Clearly, there’s little deterrent when it comes to committing the crime of actual/grievous bodily harm in a domestic abuse situation. Even when a perpetrator is arrested, 75% are released without being charged, according to the police watchdog.

It appears too difficult to stop those dishing out such violence from doing it again. Is it simpler to increase the ways in which victims can escape their situation?

A scheme run by TSB Bank was recently launched in response to the rise of domestic abuse cases during lockdown. The bank’s Safe Space scheme gives victims the opportunity to use a telephone to seek support, or to talk to friends, family, trained TSB staff or the police. It’s common for perpetrators to isolate their victims from the outside world, with only certain tasks/trips outside of the home ‘allowed’—banking often being one of these. It’s therefore a good move by the TSB to capitalise on this and provide support for victims within their branches.

Refuges across the country are suffering from a lack of funds. With a fragile economy, fewer successful grant applications, a lack of opportunities to fundraise and with most households feeling the pinch, it’s not surprising that many domestic abuse organisations are struggling to offer frontline support to those in need. Though the Chancellor recently brought financial support to the sector, it wasn’t enough and it smacks of too little, too late, considering that local authorities’ budgets for refuges went from £31 million to £24 million between 2010 and 2017.

Women’s Aid estimates the current shortfall to be around £200m; without this, women and children (and, in some areas, men also) will be turned away from refuges across the UK. With this in mind, some victims may not even bother finding out if there’s a place for them and their children. 

Considering that two women are killed each week by perpetrators of domestic violence, this is not a safe alternative and more needs to be done.

The Euros will soon be over, but just a few months down the line the World Cup qualifiers begin and the whole cycle will start again. There will always be some provocation, some excuse, some stimulus that the perpetrator uses to inflict violence on their victims.

It’s clear that more needs to be done to encourage the reporting of domestic abuse and securing convictions for the perpetrators. As well as this, more funding needs to be funnelled towards refuges, ensuring they can remain open and accessible to the people who need them.

When you think of the many millions of pounds associated with these major tournaments and sports in general, as opposed to the funding the fallout receives, the world seems to have its priorities all wrong.

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