Violence in Sport – Causes and Potential Solutions

When Bad Behavior is just Bad Behavior

With the recent outbursts in Marseille and Lille, France during the World Cup attention has focused on aggression and violence in sport.

Aggression is part of many sports – boxing, rugby and ice hockey for example. When that aggression spills out of the sporting arena and into spectator territory or indeed when it occurs within the game and goes beyond the rules of the game itself causing harm, it can be regarded as violence in sport.

The potential causes?

Abdal-Haqq(1989) described several theories about violence in sport.  The first school of thought documented subscribes to the notion that aggression resides within all of us and that the expression of it in sport is seen as a valid way of releasing built up frustration. The second theory described suggests that environment is the cause and that people get frustrated with decisions made by match officials for example which in turn leads to violence. The third theory suggests that sporting violence erupts as a form of copy cat behavior. The latter is referred to as ‘modeling’ in the literature. It posits that the aggressors are learning from observing and from conditioning (rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior). Thus if the players and match officials are role models who are aggressive their fans may follow that behavior.  This however does not explain situations where there are teams who promote and follow sporting rules to a very high standard and yet pockets of individuals purporting to be supporters will engage in violent behavior. Social identity is one of the suspected culprits in such instances and the unnatural corollary occurs where opposing teams are viewed as the enemy and violence follows.

So what is the solution?

Sport is a source of great enjoyment for many individuals. It can help build self-esteem, nurture social contact and teach multiple life lessons. Violence has no place in sport.

Sport psychology can assist in anger management programs, education of the meaning of sportsmanship for the uninitiated and encouraging positive leadership by players and management. Culture is created at the top of an organization and whether this involves a local club team or an international squad, in the quest to ensure sport is enjoyable and safe for all it is essential that the values include a clearly articulated message that violence in sport is unacceptable. Role models have enormous influence. Match bans are often used as punishment to reinforce good behavior.  The carrot can help too where the rewards rather than the punishments are emphasized.  Just as no one theory fully explains the causes of violence in sport there is no single solution. The media can assist greatly in the promotion of positive sportsmanship and by giving coverage to positive role models. Education from a very young age at grass roots level is also very powerful and should, I believe, start here. A case of locking the gate before the horse bolts..  Or better still, foster an environment where the horse has no desire to bolt…

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Reference: Abdal-Haqq (1989). ERIC Identifier: ED316547. Ismat. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education Washington DC.

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