Curbing violence in football

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Last night’s incident in Rome just magnifies the need for football authorities to step in, take a stand and implement measures that minimize football violence (on-pitch, in the stadium and outside between fans) without hurting the game itself.

There are three types of football violence that we should be looking at – in this piece I’ll talk generally about all three, and in future articles I’ll deal with each type of violence individually.

Football Violence

  1. On-pitch violence – brawls between players and teams, referee and player harassment and pitch incursions.
  2. off-pitch / stadium violence – fighting between fans, pitch incursions, police vs fans.
  3. Street violence – fighting between fans, organised or spontaneous.

The game’s image is perhaps at stake, but that’s not my major concern. I’m far more concerned about how this reflects on our society as a whole, and whether we have come to that point where:

  • team brawls end with clubs getting away with light bans
  • the police can beat up fans and there’s no responsibility attached to them and little action is taken to prevent such future incidents
  • players can threaten the lives of other players through serious negligence / deliberate attempts and get away with it
  • Groups of fans can attack visiting fans and put them in the hospital and no action is taken against the city, club or country

I enjoy the bias and rivalry, and I’m not averse to taunting rival fans. But a line has to be drawn to avoid serious incidents where lives are threatened and where the game dissolves into farcical mass brawls.

1. On Pitch Violence

How do we deal with increased instances of players fighting other players and teams brawling? You can identify several different causes to such confrontations – some of these are:

  • racist remarks
  • national rivalries (something south american teams and players have to deal with a lot)
  • a perception that certain players (and/or teams) are cheaters
  • lack of faith in the referee’s ability to make the right decision

I’ll discuss these and other causes (and how we can fix this) in more detail later, but it’s interesting to note that two of these causes (cheating opposition and incompetent referees) can be attributed to an incomplete set of rules (amongst other things).

In England, the FA can, right now, institute post-match video replays of key incidents and start banning players for diving. They can also implement regulations that force teams to use only their captains as mouthpieces for arguments with the referee. These two regulations alone will reduce player vs ref confrontations and reduce player vs player hostility if the players can trust the system to punish the opposition player for diving / cheating.

2. Off-Pitch / In-Stadium Violence

Managers and team staff squaring up to each other, fans clashing and police beating up fans is NOT part of football.

Managers abusing the referees is not part of football.

Recent events show that the police and stewards drafted in to ‘protect’ fans have to be held accountable for their actions. This video will circulate for a long time now because at the end it shows a police officer repeatedly hitting a fan that has fallen to the ground. Eventually another police officer has to pull him away.

That is not football.

Arsene Wenger and Alan Pardew, Jol and Wenger, Mourinho vs Frisk, Queiroz vs Boro staff – that is not football.

This is a more complex problem that cannot just be tackled by regulations.

3. Street Violence

Football can evoke dangerous passions. Rivalries lead good friends to provoke and taunt one another, cause heated arguments between family members and can blind you to rational analysis. Bias in football is a dangerous thing but it’s also something that is very common and very hard to prevent.

We are biased, we feel very strongly about it and we argue incessantly over the smallest of details.

And this about people who know each other – people who, even when angry, are able to use that relationship to control their reactions.

When you have strangers, those bonds do not exist – rivalry, bias, partisanship and hatred rush in and the result is a dangerous situation where rival fans are ready to go at each other throats with provocations and threats.

How do we deal with football hooliganism? It’s not just an English problem, or an Italian problem. It’s a problem everywhere, and its main cause is unbridled passion and bias.

Related reading: Football hooliganism in Europe

Our Challenge

The challenge is to keep the game free of draconian rules and to repair the spirit of the game without forcing everyone to play a certain way or without curbing free speech. There is a way to reduce violence and improve football at the same time – it’s up to us – the fans, the footballing community and the footballing authorities – to find it.

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