Commentary

Does football create, encourage or tolerate tribal aggression?

I have been following the defiant pro-racism, the politically promoted homophobia and the tribal aggression surrounding the Euro 2020 games and I kept thinking about pedophiles and rape dolls.

I have been looking at a friend’s social media activity during Euro 2020, the state-sponsored football circus. Professionally, he is a well-mannered, well-respected man who knows when to shut up and when to crack inappropriate jokes to facilitate male bonding in the locker room. When it comes to his private life, his friends-only social media activity and football, however, he is 100% unacceptable. Gay-bashing is minimal, people of color are not a topic in Hungary, but gypsy-bashing is his bread and butter on social media. And during the Euro 2020 he posted more nationalist content than in the previous year combined. He is not a nationalist (but…)

I have been forced to endure football-enthusiasts bending my ear about the nobility of the sport and how the violent ultras get the it wrong and they, the moderate fathers and measured humanists get it right. It is not about tribalism, it is just…

I remember some of these men growing up with distant fathers who had nothing to say to a child. So they took their kids to football matches and bonded. No, not with each other, but with the team or with football. And miraculously they had something “in common” with their boring children, they had something to talk about and they could get through the next 30 years with football-themed Christmas gifts.

Now these men feel nostalgic about their youth and glorify everything that was part of it. Including football. Watching it, not doing int. And I have to listen to their convoluted and intricately nuanced arguments why football is about something else. Not what it looks like.

It is a tall order to say that the very core of football-watching enthusiasts are wrong about it. And the heady, irrational high of belonging you get when you’re in a crowd that is stoked simultaneously by a goal is a drug. It is something to be vary about, not to be sought out. It brings out the bad in us as easily as it brings out the good – maybe even easier. And when you watch the crowd booing an anti-racism statement and the anthem of the enemy, you should really take a pause. And when politicians double down and literally call racism and homophobia a part of our culture that visitors must respect by not protesting against it, you should really stop defending it.

Football is theirs, not yours. It is the turf of the aggressive tribalists and it is not an accident it is a stylized war between the young muscle of each tribe. Identifying with an athlete and trying to own (“be proud of”) his achievements is bad enough. Identifying with the warring team of the tribe is exactly what it looks like. Not a heart-warming bonding opportunity between father and son, not a great tradition, but a stylized tribal war. Financed by taxpayer money (because sporting events have learned how to bribe their way into the taxpayers’ pockets by enticing politicians and are today more and more addicted to the easy money).

Some argue that football allows them to “let off steam”. It is an odd concept to begin with.

Letting off steam is a dangerously subjective notion, emerging from the momentary relief we feel when we are done shouting. There seems to be no evidence that all kinds of steam-letting would leave the world unharmed. Punching a boxing bag? Probably. “Just” yelling at the waitress or kicking a trash can? That’s not harmless.

Letting off steam may be how it feels when you shout or yell or break things – but to say that damage has not been done is seriously shortsighted. Just ask any child who grew up in a household where a parent were regularly “letting off steam”. The absence of physical violence does not mean that damage has not been done, fear was not suffered and the child grew up unharmed.

The concept of letting off steam also implies that there will be less of it once you yelled/shouted/broke things, or got into a fight with someone. That doesn’t make much sense either. Are you sure you are not more likely to yell/shout/hit again after the quick relief and satisfaction achieved by letting steam off the last time you did it?

Since football in Europe is intricately linked to nationalism, tribalism, violence and football ultras serve as the first line of political hitmen to be sent to riot or kill whenever an uninhibited politician decides to ride nationalism for power, there are only three options right now:

  1. That football creates tribal aggression
  2. That football tolerates tribal aggression
  3. That football encourages tribal aggression

This is where pedophiles and sex dolls come in. Would pedophiles be tamed if they received a child-shaped doll for personal use as they see fit? Would a personal rape doll satisfy them and keep real children safe? Some argue for the latter. Others worry that it would just encourage them, give them ideas, make them feel legitimate in their desire.

There is simply no data on whether a dry run would tame them or legitimize them, whether it would help them to let off steam or to build more up. If the example of misogynistic countries is anything to go by, it is the latter. Any society that gives each male a woman for unencumbered personal use (marriage) leads to even more misogyny vis-à-vis women who are not their wives. Rather than making them contented, mild-mannered respecters of other women, these hyper-entitled men find it even harder to regard women as people if they can literally own one as a pet. Not to mention that a rape doll is no way to internalize the concept on consent, adult or child, nor is having a wife that is legally her husband’s property and he can use her as he pleases.

Just imagine that a sex doll in your shape and likeness is made to help men “let off steam”. Would that make you feel safer? Imagine your child or a woman being made into a sex doll and given to these men. Would that make them more safe or less so?

I don’t like the chances of success of the child rape dolls at this point. And I don’t like what it means to football and the mirage of just letting off steam.

I have been thinking about pedophiles and rape dolls when I was listening to a friend painstakingly detailing the nuances of the right kind of football fandom, how it is about the game and respect and sportsmanship – and definitely not about trying to own the achievements of athletes we don´t even know while aggressively hating on the fans of the other team – or the entire country they represent. According to him the football enthusiasts waging war at the opposing teams’ fans and country are just an aberration, a minority, who are completely wrong about what football is about.

He has been desperately defending the football circus even when foreign football fans were defecating under his window and refused to turn down the bluetooth boomboxes at 3am in the morning. He has been defending football when fights broke out in the stadium and fellow fans booed foreign anthems, black players and rainbow flags.

He was defending football for the same reason atheist mistakenly defend religion: because Christmases were their favorite childhood events when their elusive parents paid attention to them. If that is a reason to hold multi-billion dollar vandalism events sponsored by states at the taxpayers´ expense, laden with aggressive and righteous racism, homophobia and nationalism, then maybe it is not good enough.

And if the nostalgia argument does not stand and the letting off steam argument appears to backfire, is it still a good idea to build massive stadiums for aggressive men for a cage fight? Will that make them more entitled to aggression, nationalism and homophobia elsewhere – or less so?

But the most sinister side of football fandom is in politics. Football ultras are the first line of political violence and civil wars – just look at the Balkan, but also Hungary these days. Their thirst for war wasn’t satisfied by violence around football events – they felt more entitled to violence in other parts of life. It encouraged them like keeping domestic sex slaves at home emboldens men to be more shitty outside of their homes.

Defending football based on convoluted arguments and poorly understood nostalgia should be practiced with caution. If it weren’t a taxpayer-funded circus, it may be different. It might be their own business. Also, it might already be banned by law enforcement by now for the above mentioned, obvious reasons. But taxpayers are on the hook for sports facilities and circus-like sports event everywhere on the planet, they are said to forge national unity (hello!!!) and come at the expense of actual, necessary state services that should come way before spectator sports. So claiming that you love it in a pure and non-political way just makes you look like the useful idiot of the ultras. Sure, father-son bonding. That’s what they are after, they will all gleefully agree.

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