Last week top officials and ambassadors from the United Nations (UN) played a football match to support the Secretary General’s campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women.
This is a high level political campaign to end violence against women where, in some countries, as many as two-thirds of women have experienced some form of abuse. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, launched the UNiTE campaign so all countries would put stronger laws in place and preventative measures.
It has become the fashion de jour to use football as a vehicle to convey messages but this time it has made me debate whether this is clever campaigning or whether the UN have severely misjudged their audience.
‘Football is a global passion and a great way to win hearts and minds.’ Campaigners have realised football can capture a wide audience especially for topics that are male orientated which have included prostate cancer awareness, homophobia campaigns and even Pele did his bit for erectile dysfunction.
The emphasis of this particular campaign is that ‘real men don’t hit’ which is pandering to the inner caveman. However the message of the exhibition game didn’t seem to be appealing to fans. It was a low-key affair stocked with officials from Latin America, Scandinavia and the Caribbean and the story was just a small piece on the UN web pages.
Football itself is a contributing factor to domestic abuse, so using it to promote the end of violence against women does somewhat appear to be an oxymoron to me.
A recent study by Lancaster University showed that domestic violence rose significantly when England matches are played. In Lancashire alone domestic violence incidents rose by 26% when England won or drew and by 38% when the national team lost.
Although there has been research before into increases in abuse after Old Firm games, this research delves further into the impact of tournament football. During the European Championships and the World Cup tournaments the university paper suggests that men’s emotions intensify and ‘the concepts of masculinity, rivalry and aggression’ come to the forefront.
Increased alcohol intake and late summer evenings are also highlighted as contributing factors. On this cold blustery autumn evening where three points stand in the way of a tournament place for England, it’s hard to think that some wives and partners may this evening be feeling the full force of a football fan’s passion for their country.
Will watching the President of Bolivia playing an exhibition match really make an inebriated man think ‘Oh England have lost but I must remember not to smack the wife when I get home?’
Using football to raise awareness of this issue reaches the right audience but tempering the violence after the outcome of these matches means more than PR from high ranking officials.
Like the abused partner actions speak louder than press releases.