Spectating sports has been a long-time favourite pastime for many people all around the world. But what exactly triggers bad behaviour in sports by spectators?
From football to hockey, almost everyone has a favourite sport, and a favourite team they love to root for. But what happens when the cheering turns to jeer, and the hype turns into hate? It’s no surprise that many sports fans get a bit too rowdy when supporting their team, but all too often does this enthusiastic support turn violent, and people start getting hurt. There are many theories on why this happens, and yet more famous examples of a fan’s love of the game going a bit too far.
Why Does It Happen?
Crowd moderators, psychologists, sport management researchers, and so many more have long wondered at the cause of fan violence in sports.
What Triggers Bad Behaviour in Sports by Spectators?
1. Social Identity Theory
Social identity is a common trigger of bad behaviour in sports by spectators. Social identity theory sounds like a long and complex subject, but in reality, it is quite simple. Basically, people have a basic need to belong to a group. Studies have shown that membership in these groups provides a basis for social identification and self-esteem needs.
Social identity theory can be looked at as an explaination as to why people need to identify with a particular team. The theory goes that people have a need to belong to groups and that membership in these groups provide a basis for their social identification and self-esteem.
In a nutshell, we have a better idea of who we are, and are happier about it when we are part of an identified group. It the case of two sports teams, fans divide themselves into two groups. One for each team. Putting two groups with such big differences between them close together will typically cause trouble.
2. Attitude of Fans Prior to Match
Another huge trigger for bad behaviour in sports by spectators is their attitude before the game. Fans often bring their own outside problems and issues into a match. Many people don’t have many options to let out their stress and frustration at home or at work. An energetic atmosphere like that of a sports match gives them a reason to let loose. That very energy surrounding the game, or the hype, can even be a cause on its own. There is often a lot of hype surrounding important matches, so fans show up very excited to see the outcome. This excitement causes some people to lose their cool, and act as they wouldn’t normally.
3. Events During the Match
Events unfolding during a match can also act as a catalyst for bad behaviour in sports by spectators. The first being the score or result of the sports match. If it is an especially important game, fans may get very upset when their team loses.
This may cause them to lash out at the source of their anger: the other team’s fans. Sometimes, it’s as simple as reacting to being around violence. Many sports that involve physical contact can become unnecessarily violent. Even though we love fights, hockey is a good example of this.
Some fans may become angry or excited from about on the pitch, and seek to replicate it with other fans.
4. Fan Activities During Match
Most fans are generally civil and reasonable people but can be easily influenced by the actions of a few. More often than not, violence at sporting events comes from the actions of a select few individuals who sought to pick fights or hurt someone else. Even though it was only a few people, seeing one of their own get attacked by the other side can make any fan angry. Rude chanting and bad relations can fan these flames quite well.
Chants and cheers are not uncommon from the audience but can get a little out of hand when they target specific players, or the fans themselves. When someone feels like they are being kicked while they are down, they tend to get very angry and aggressive.
Hooliganism is an interesting subject and regular cause of violence at sporting events.
The term “hooliganism” was coined by the media in the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In its easiest definition, hooliganism is the violent or rowdy behaviour by young troublemakers (hooligans), typically in a gang.
Despite modern media only naming it in the last 50 years, hooliganism is a problem that has surrounded sports (especially football) for centuries. Hooligans are typically rabid fans of a particular sport team, and show up to matches simply to intimidate, shout at, and fight with the other team’s fans. Every team from every part of the world has a subset of hooligans who are out for trouble.
Most of the history of hooliganism comes from the UK, and the football (soccer) matches held there. There, hooligans are typically organized and target specific groups of fans in planned ways. There have even been reports of groups of hooligans from separate teams finding each other at separate locations to duke it out, as a means of not being arrested. Even so, most of their violence happens before, during, and after football matches, and often involve bystanders against their will. Such groups are typically organized and can be viewed as a form of organized crime. Groups of hooligans have also been accused of racial crimes and riots.
There have been great strides made in recent years to reduce hooliganism, and other kinds of violence at sporting events. This mostly involves good policing of events before, after, and during matches. Aside from that, some countries have banned the sale of alcoholic beverages at sporting events, as alcohol is seen as a catalyst to this violence. Others have increased ticket prices to discourage “less savory” types from showing up. These efforts have seemed to mitigate much of the violence and have set somewhat of a standard of how fans should act.
6. Under The Influence Of Alcohol
Alcohol is a huge part of many sport events and due to its inherent effects on the human brain, it can be a catalyst for bad behaviour in sports by spectators.
Notable Examples of Bad Behaviour in Sports by Spectators.
Over the years, there have been some very notable examples of bad behaviour in sports by spectators. From the violent to the silly, these types of antics are often seen as a major problem in the sporting world. Even so, the events still continue. Here are some notable examples of such events!
1. Field Invasions
A field invasion is when a fan leaps out of the spectator stands and runs amok on the pitch or simply invades. This was the case in 2012 at the PGA Men’s U.S. Open. Timed perfectly, this fan invaded the field during Webb Simpson’s victory talks with Bob Costas. It was Simpson’s first major and “Bird Man” stole the show.
But this is just one of a number of cases of fan invasions that take place on an almost weekly basis in the sport world. That brings us to a little moment on streakers.
What is a streaker?
Streaking in sports is when a spectator or fan runs onto the pitch, ice, field, court, or another playing surface, typically while nude, for publicity or an act of protest. It’s quite common and what happens is, the security chases them around until caught. Play action stops and players typically watch in amusement.
If you’d like to see a highlight reel of streakers and streaking incidents, give the video below a click. But please be advised, there may be content that viewers find offensive. So, vewer discretion is strongly advised.
2. Overzealous Family
In the world of children’s sports, parents can often be the worst fans. Many parents believe their child should be given special treatment, and when they don’t receive it, they get angry. I just love this image of what some people call the worst behaved and most annoying spectators in sport – family.
Sometimes family members take it too far when their loved ones don’t make a particular team. For example, one mother sued an American high school simply because her son didn’t make the varsity football (soccer) team.
Likewise, parents even came to blows over an umpire’s call at a Tennessee youth softball tournament in 2018. Yikes!
3. Fans vs. Players
Some spectators will even go as far as disrupting an opposing team’s players by throwing them or things at them.
Or take for instance this young fan in Denver pushing NBA star Russell Westbrook:
Russell Westbrook has been involved in a number of these spats with fans. Too many to be able to share in this feature. One was an incident taking place in Utah, where a fan was allegedly ‘smack talking’ him, for which he retaliated.
Westbrook responded to the incident in his post-game media availability, saying that fans are given too much leeway. Take a look:
4. Large Events
There have been several notable events where fans activities have grown into a full riot. Some of them led to scary, oh so scary and devastating, down-right devastating outcomes.
Not so devastating occured in 2011, the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup championship match against the Boston Bruins. Fans were so angry at the result, they began rioting the streets of Vancouver.
This is a classic example of celebratory violence – aka exuberant celebration also known as an expressive riot, the celebration of a team’s victory that involves the destruction of both private and public property. It may happen after a loss too, which was the case in Vancouver 2011.
Another example of celebratory violence which was an example of bad behaviour in sports by spectators was after the Toronto Raptors won the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Championship this year. We logged some of the footage on our YouTube account for you and share it below.
1 During The Championship Parade
2 On The Streets
Some Fan Deviance For Big Sport Events Has Led To Devastating Results
In 2001, a spectacular disaster occurred at the Accra Sports Stadium in Ghana. Two of Ghana’s best football clubs played a nail-biting game with last-minute goals deciding the winner.
The losing fans began to throw items onto the pitch in protest. Police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. The resulting panic and mass exit resulted in the trampling deaths of 126 people.
Wikipedia does a fantastic job of summarizing the most deadly sports riots on this chart. The chart shows incidents in the left column, with the financial, human and societal impacts describes in the right column.
It just goes to show you that fans and spectators can be deviant in a number of settings and without much regard for the consequences.
Though it has been a big problem in the past, rude, rowdy, and violent behaviour has been on a steady decline over the last few decades. A combination of new regulations improved policing, and social ridicule of disruptive fans has contributed to some of the lowest incident rates in history.
Even so, there are still events where rational people lose their cool. There are still people who go to sporting events looking for any kind of trouble. It will be interesting to see how officials and fans will handle the issue as sports move forward into the future.