Sunday, September 25, 2011

What can we do to reduce fan violence?

Fans riot in Vancouver following loss in Stanley Cup

How far is too far if you’re a sports fan? Is name-calling OK? What about trying to distract the opponent? We probably agree that when fans commit violence, that is going too far. Yet we seem to be seeing a growing amount of fan violence in sports around the world.

When the Vancouver Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup finals of the National Hockey League, the city erupted in rioting and looting. After a baseball game in March, two hometown Los Angeles Dodgers fans severely beat a visiting San Francisco Giants fan, nearly killing him. In August, following a professional football game in San Francisco, a fan was shot because he was wearing a T-shirt that nastily denounced the hometown San Francisco 49ers.

The San Francisco incident led to calls for curbing violence by football fans, perhaps by reducing alcohol sales. The National Football League fears the perception of violence is driving away some fans, particularly families.

Fan violence has not been limited to North American sports. Italian soccer fans have been banned from a match against Serbia because of fear of riots, as happened at a match between the teams last year. In Uganda, the police have opened an inquiry into violence at soccer games and they’re threatening jail time to soccer hooligans. In Turkey, which has a long history of violence at soccer matches, hundreds of Istanbul fans stormed the field during a competition this summer.

But Turkey’s football association has come up with a novel solution to the problem of fan violence. In response to such problems, some soccer leagues force teams to play a series of games in front of an empty stadium. But in Turkey, rather than close a game to everyone, the league decided to penalize only men. For that day of violence in Istanbul, all men were banned from attending one game. However, women and children under age 12 were allowed to attend
Female fans cheer in Istanbul.
Last week, more than 41,000 women and children were admitted free and watched Istanbul play to a 1-1 draw with Manisapor. Rather than fans hurling insults at the opponents, the game began with players hurling flowers at the spectators. And the visiting team was greeted with cheers instead of the usual jeering.

The Istanbul captain said, “The memory will stay with me forever. It’s not always that you see so many women and children in one game.”

A Manisaspor player said, “It was such a fun and pleasant atmosphere.”

Now the league says the same penalty will be applied whenever there are invasions of the pitch or unrest outside the stadium. Men will be banned for a game, and female fans will get the benefit.

Toronto Star writer Cathal Kelly recommends that sports leagues everywhere take a lesson from Turkey and do much more to fill the stands at the home games with women and kids – in part to deter violence. “There is no threat that works better on a surly drunk than, ‘There are kids who can hear you saying that,’” he wrote, concluding: “Feminizing a game can make its masculine attributes even more appealing.”

But some, such as James Calvert, wonder if this is just another example of rules that go too far, even in the interest of curbing violence. Under current anti-violence laws England, football fans convicted of shoving a rival fan or swearing at a stadium steward can find themselves banned from attending their team’s matches. In addition, they have to surrender their passport whenever the team plays abroad and they may be subject to police surveillance as high risk fans.

In Turkey, this new rule that blames all men for the acts of a few is the ultimate kind of guilt by association. If you’re a man, you must be the source of sport violence. Without doubt, it discriminates against men.

Do we need such strict measures to curtail violence by fans? And what is at the root of this violence, anyway? Tell me what your thoughts are on kicking out all men when a few fans get violent. Or do you have other ideas about how to make sports fans more civil?

Go to the comment section and share your thoughts.

Women and children were the only fans allowed into this soccer match in Istanbul.
Here's what one expert, Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll of the Center for ETHICS*, says about banning men from games as a way to reduced violence in sport.


  1. Just so you know, here’s what Turkey already does to stop violence at matches: “up to six years in prison for fans who dismantle seats, two years in prison for fans who chant racial slurs and obscenities in or around stadiums and one-year prison terms for spectators who attempt to bring guns, sharp objects or flares to sports events…. Fans deemed to be drunk or under the influence of drugs will be refused entry to events, while anyone involved in hooliganism will be barred from competitions for a year.”
    Read more:

  2. I believe the line is drawn where someone could get injured. Its fine for a little trah talk and all, but no one should be put at risk. Agree or Disagree?