Anna Trendl writes that while the exact mechanism by which national soccer victories lead to an increase in domestic abuse cases is complex, the evidence shows that alcohol plays a key role in this relationship.

There is no doubt that soccer is England’s most popular sport and that England’s national soccer team is the most closely followed of all national teams. This reaches fever at international tournaments like the FIFA World Cup. For many, this is a time of positivity, community, and national pride, but some evidence shows a darker side of these events. During the last World Cup, the National Domestic Violence Center ran national awareness-raising campaigns with the eye-catching headline “If England is beaten, so will” over the image of a woman’s bloody face. This was the finding of a study published in 2014 which found that reported cases of intimate partner violence increased by 38% when England lost and by 26% when they won or drew the tournament.

Our research, with access to more detailed and extensive data, was able to examine what might be driving the link between national soccer tournaments and domestic violence. While the connection between football fandom and domestic violence is complex, experts have long pointed to alcohol as an important factor in this relationship. Sports viewing and alcohol consumption are inextricably linked, and this is especially true in the context of English football fandom. On the day England beat Sweden in the quarter-finals at the 2018 World Cup, hospitals across the country reported a record number of cases of alcohol poisoning. Several studies have documented the link between alcohol poisoning and violent behavior. While alcohol may not be the direct cause of violent behavior, it can act as an aggravating factor by lowering inhibitions. As of March 2018, victims of violent crime in England and Wales believed that their perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol 39% of the time, according to a report released by the Bureau of National Statistics.

In the UK, domestic abuse encompasses a wide range of behavior patterns, from physical and sexual violence to psychological, emotional, financial abuse, threatening behavior, stalking and harassment, either within a family or an intimate relationship. It is estimated that 6.2% of adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales through March 2018 experienced domestic violence, with women reporting domestic violence twice as likely (7.9%) as men (4, 2%)).

To investigate the role of alcohol in the relationship between football and domestic violence, we analyzed ten years worth of crime data from England’s second largest police force (West Midlands Police). During this time we have concentrated on the matches of the English national football team (World Cups and UEFA European Championships). Our results show a 47% increase in reported cases of alcohol-related domestic abuse related to alcohol on days when the English team wins these tournaments and by 18% on days after a game in England. We did not see any increase in the number of non-alcohol-related domestic abuse cases on match days in England. If we look at the exact timing pattern of the England Win Effect, we see that the increase in alcohol-related cases begins in the three hours of the game, peaks in the next three hours, and then gradually declines within 24 hours of the game back to the original level. This pattern is largely consistent with the effect of prolonged alcoholic celebrations after a victory in England.

Properties of the England win effect

The data also show that the increase is mainly due to male-to-female domestic abuse cases (a total of 78% of domestic abuse cases in the dataset involve a male abuser and a female victim). In addition, a similar increase can be seen in non-domestic alcohol-related violence incidents on Victory Days in England, suggesting that the effect of a national victory on propensity for alcohol-related violence is not limited to domestic situations.

We also looked at the effects of rugby, the second most popular sport in the country. Using data on England’s games from the Six Nations rugby tournament, we found that when the England union’s national rugby team won, lost or had no impact on the number of cases of alcohol or non-alcoholic domestic abuse, the games in England had no impact played a draw.

Is that a causal effect?

It could be argued that the link between football and domestic abuse is not necessarily causal and that there are potential disruptive factors, including increased police work on match days (higher detection rates) and pre-tournament awareness campaigns (higher reporting rate). Assuming that increased policing would result in a higher number of registered cases in a public place (as opposed to an apartment), and awareness campaigns would increase the number of newly reported cases (cases where there are no previous records for the same victim) . Pair of perpetrators) we found no evidence of any of these alternative explanations.

Instead, we argue that the link between wins in English football and the recorded increase in alcohol-related domestic abuse is likely causal. First, we see that the effect is specific to Win Days in England and only for alcohol-related cases, which limits the amount of possible disruptive factors that are synchronized with the victories in England and affect alcohol-related abuse only. Second, the days England plays are randomly assigned by drawing a ball from an urn, which is close to a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard for inferring causality. Third, the time pattern of the increase (which starts in the three hours of play, peaks in the following three hours, and then gradually decreases) is largely consistent with a causal link between the victories in England and alcohol-related domestic abuse. Finally, the effect is replicated using data from another region of the country.

The precise mechanism by which domestic football victories lead to an increase in domestic abuse cases is clearly complex, and much of it remains unexplored. This evidence shows us that alcohol plays a key role in this relationship. Previous analysis shows that incidences of alcohol-related domestic abuse increased around normal drinking times (e.g. weekends, Christmas) and it is likely that victories in England increase alcohol-related domestic abuse primarily by creating a convenient time to drink and consequently the alcohol consumption increases in the population.

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Note: The data was provided by the West Midlands Police, which did not narrow the research agenda or editorially control the publication. The above is based on the author’s work published in Social Science & Medicine.

If you are affected by the issues discussed in this article, help and support can be found at the following organizations: National Domestic Abuse Helpline; Help women; Men advice; Gallop.

About the author

Anna Trendl PhD from the University of Warwick.

Photo by Frank Luca on Unsplash.