Football related arrests higher than before the pandemic
Have lockdown restrictions affected our behaviour in public spaces?
The 2022 World Cup kicked off on 20th November in Qatar, but it was only a mere month earlier that the Home Office announced that 1,308 UK football fans would be banned from travelling to the host country.
Those who were subject to a banning order were required to hand over their passport for the duration of the tournament to limit the number of fans in the stadiums that may cause violence and disruption at games. They were left with little choice in the matter as not handing it over would result in harsh fines. Any UK fans without banning orders at the time that did travel to Qatar for the matches risked receiving one upon returning if they had caused any football related disruption whilst abroad.
This all comes as part of a wider ‘crack down’ by the government to decrease the number of football incidents whether that be pitch invasions, violent behaviour, or discriminatory language. Home Secretary Suella Braverman said, ‘We’ll not let the behaviour of a minority of lawbreakers tarnish what will be an exciting tournament’.
It seems that their plan worked as, in December, England and Wales fans were praised by the head of UK football policing, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, for their behaviour leading to ‘no arrests or incidents to report’. The same couldn’t be said for fans outside the host country who brawled in the streets of Tenerife.
The government’s rising concern for this violence may have been spurred by their statistics released last year on football related arrests and banning orders for the 2021-2022 season. The data showed that there was a significant increase in arrests at games since before the pandemic and this was the highest number since the 2014/15 season.
As the graph displays, arrests were falling year on year in the lead up to the pandemic and dropped to as low as 116 arrests for the 2020-2021 season. This was, of course, due to the coronavirus outbreak, halting live audiences at sports and most other events.
However, as audiences were granted the ability to finally enter stadiums again and enjoy the game up close in 2021-2022, the numbers have had a dramatic increase. Arrests jumped up by a staggering 59% from ones made in the pre-pandemic 2018-2019 season. Prior to this, the numbers had been falling year on year since 2015/16, decreaing by 27% in total by 2018/19. The sudden increase since the pandemic is therefore even more significant, suggesting that the lockdowns may have something to do with this change in behaviour.
A similar issue has been raised within the music industry, as complaints over audience’s behaviour at live music events have been ongoing since restrictions eased. This Dazed article discusses the wave of ‘badly-behaved fans’ at gigs being louder, rowdier and sometimes disrespectful towards the artists. Is it possible that being stuck inside for so long altered the way we interact with others?
Unlike the increasing number of arrests, football related banning orders have continued to decrease, dropping by 6% since before the pandemic and by 46% since 2010/11, indicating that the consequences for public disorder or violence may be as severe as they once were.
Contrary to popular belief, banning orders can be imposed for much more than just violence at football matches. A fan could also receive one for being found drunk in a public place when travelling to or from a game. They can last anywhere up to 10 years, prohibiting the individual from visiting all UK football grounds. If a banning order is broken, the consequences are dire with a potential fine or even the possibility of a prison sentence.
However, many sensible fans do not think this is harsh enough. In a survey conducted by Hybrid Magazine on fan opinions of football violence, 74.3% of respondents believe that there should be harsher sanctions for violent behaviour at matches.
48.6% of those surveyed had personally witnessed violence at a match and when asked what they thought the reason was for this violence, most put the blame on local rivalry with 70.6% choosing this option. One respondent explained that ‘some rival supporters have been brought up to hate their rivals’. Similarly, another response referenced a ‘this is my team I’m loyal to them mentality’ whilst terms such as ‘tribalism’, ‘mob mentality’ and ‘herd mentality’ were also used. What isn’t clear is why this intensity of support leads fans to then act violently or viciously towards fans of an opposing team.
One thing is for certain, football has a violence issue that cannot be allowed to continue to increase. It’s not just in the stadiums too, but back home where alcohol related domestic violence is reported to be 47% higher when England wins a game. In Qatar, alcohol was banned from the stadiums, and the country has little tolerance for public drinking which may explain the markedly better behaviour of England and Wales fans. It begs the question, is a complete alcohol ban the way to go for UK football matches?