A graphic went viral on social media ahead of England's World Cup match against Tunisia on Monday, making a stark point about domestic violence in the UK.
"No one wants England to win more than women. Domestic abuse rates increase by 38% when England lose," it read. The image was created by the domestic abuse charity Pathway Project and, terrifyingly, it's true.
The statistic in question comes from a small-scale study by academics from Lancaster University in 2013, which looked at the number of domestic abuse cases reported to one English police force during the World Cups of 2002, 2006 and 2010, Full Fact reported. Lancashire police reported up to a 40% rise in reported incidents on days when England lost a match, compared to tournament days when the team weren't playing, and a 26% spike when the team won or drew. Even the day after a match there was an 11% increase in reported incidents, the study found.
Domestic abuse comes in multiple forms – from anger and physical violence to financial control and emotional abuse – it's difficult to record and many victims don't report it at all. Around 1.9 million people in England and Wales were estimated to have experienced domestic abuse between March 2016 and March 2017, but just 1.1 million domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes were reported to police over the same period.
It's near impossible to ascertain whether or not the spike in reports was a direct result of football, but other studies have produced similar findings. Research by the Royal Statistical Society and the BBC using Freedom of Information requests found a 32% rise in incidents on a day England lost during the 2010 World Cup and a 28% increase on a day they won. Various other papers have also found links between the timing of football matches and increased domestic violence reporting.
How are police responding?
English police forces are taking the opportunity to raise awareness of an important issue, with several having joined a campaign, Give Domestic Abuse the Red Card, which supports potential victims and warn potential abusers of the consequences of their behaviour.
"The World Cup, as with other major sporting events, is often associated with an increase in incidents of domestic abuse because of factors such as increased alcohol consumption and an increase in tension," said Cleveland Police's specialist crime superintendent, Anne-Marie Salwey.
Some forces are deploying extra officers to deal with the problem. Hampshire, which has the lowest domestic abuse arrest rate in England and Wales, will put out five extra response cars on match days, reported Sky News. "These additional officers will spend more time with victims of abuse and help them with safeguarding," said chief inspector Mike Haines.
Cleveland in Middlesbrough, which reported receiving 897 domestic abuse reports during the last World Cup, will also be taking special measures, sending out a domestic abuse support car carrying a support worker and a police officer during all national matches.
What causes the spike?
Alcohol, which tends to accompany football, is often at least partly to blame. But while both alcohol and football are "aggravating factors" in domestic violence they're "not the root cause", says Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, which provides support for those experiencing domestic violence.
"Domestic violence is systematic, patterned behaviour on the part of the abusive man designed to control 'his woman'. Blaming football or alcohol absolves the perpetrator of responsibility for his actions. Domestic violence is a choice perpetrators make; and the vast majority of men who enjoy football do not choose to abuse their partners," she adds.
"Women experience violence and abuse at the hands of their partners every day, not just when football is on the TV. Many forces are undertaking awareness raising campaigns warning that domestic violence will not be tolerated – but this shouldn’t be limited to football tournaments. Domestic violence is an appalling crime that kills two women every week in England and Wales. Police must take a zero tolerance approach all year round."
Like Refuge, the domestic violence charity Women's Aid says the sport itself doesn't cause domestic abuse but instead blames the sexist and misogynistic attitudes that underpin both the sport and wider society. "Categorically, football does not cause domestic abuse, the behaviour and actions of abusers who exert power and control over their victims cause domestic abuse," says Katie Ghose, the charity's chief executive.
"However, domestic abuse does not happen in a cultural vacuum. The sexist attitudes, chants and behaviour at football matches encourage an environment in which women are belittled and demeaned." And while many forces have seen increases in reported domestic violence incidents in recent years, the sexist chants and laddish banter will take longer to tackle.
What's being done?
As well as special measures from the police, Women's Aid's national Football Against Domestic Violence campaign has been working with football clubs, the FA, the Premier League and BT Sport since 2014 to prevent domestic abuse and flag up the the sexist attitudes and behaviour still exhibited by many fans.
"Football is part of our national culture, enjoyed by millions of men, women and children every week," says Ghose, adding that the World Cup is a time when supporters from all clubs come together behind England. "That’s why we’re calling for the football community to stand united against domestic abuse and sexism this World Cup. Together, we can send out the powerful message that domestic abuse is always unacceptable and that there is no place for violence in football whether on or off the pitch."
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.