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Violence in The Sports - a Reminder from The Ancient Time

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George Orwell once made the observation, ‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence; in other words, it is war minus the shooting’. Sporting contests have provided mass entertainment throughout history. The term sports rage has been used in a growing number of academic and non-academic sports publications to describe the type of shockingly violent incidents that occur at sporting events world-wide. Violence is defined as harm-inducing behaviour bearing no direct relationship to the competitive goals of sport, and relates, therefore, to incidents of uncontrolled aggression outside the rules of sport, rather than highly competitive behaviour within the rule boundaries.

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Violent origin of sports – a remarkable similarity among ancient and modern sports is the existence of violence and aggression in contests. Theories hold that humans have an instinct for violence, developed during a time when early human ancestors had to resort to violence and aggressiveness to survive and reproduce. Also, these assumptions deal with the sociological aspects of violence in sports, stating that sports are “mock battles” which can become actual combats due to their competitive origin. 

Violence has always been associated with football since the origination of the game and its ancestors, dating back to 225 BC.

  • Essentially pitched battles between the youth of rival villages and towns, (most often played on Shrove Tuesdays and other Holy Days) Medieval football matches involved literally hundreds of men, sometimes in excess of 1000, and were commonly used as an occasion to settle arguments, personal differences and disputes over land. Rules existed purely on a local basis.
  • The acceptance of violence in the sport was not, however, widespread and by the early 14th century there were calls for regulations to be placed into the game. These requests arose not because of the violent nature of the game at the time, but because of the fact that, on match days it was prising local citizens away from market towns, and it was therefore bad for business
  • By this time the game now had a bad reputation among English royalty. Not just for its extreme violence but also because of the excessive noise made by the spectators. King Edward III banned the game, not only because of its violence and noise but for military reasons too. The game had become so popular that it was distracting members of the military from undertaking their archery practice. King Henry IV and Henry VIII also passed laws against the sport, and Queen Elizabeth I even had football players jailed for up to a week.


On February 7th during the Sydney Riot of 1879, up to 2,000 fans invaded the pitch and disrupted play after an umpiring dispute broke out between members of the visiting English cricket team and the New South Wales Cricket Association. Two English players were assaulted, with three fans being arrested. Another example is about Andres Escobar, a revered Colombian defender scored an own goal during a 1994 World Cup match versus the United States. The violent act was commitment outside of a bar upon his return to his hometown of Medellin. Humberto Castro Muñoz, the man who later confessed to the murder, shot and killed Escobar, reportedly screamed ‘Gol!’, about Escobar’s own goal. Escobar’s death was a tragic example of how soccer is more than a game in many parts of the world. Moreover, history abounds with incidents of sporting violence that took place “off-the-ball”, that is to say, not in the course of an action directly pursuant to the sport’s objective, which led to a prison sentence for the perpetrator. In 1995, Duncan Ferguson was handed a three-month sentence for head-butting Josh McStay in a match between Raith Rovers and Rangers. 

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To conclude, a significant relationship between violence and sports arrived early from the ancient world and derived from the connection between ancient sports and warfare. Sport had value as a technique for military preparation, and it also had value as a substitute for direct military conflict. Battlefield tactics required soldiers to be in exceptional condition, and fighting skills learned from combat sports were invaluable during times of armed conflict. Nowadays professional sport isn’t associated with military and warfare, however if you want to be a champion sometimes you go over the rules to achieve your target. 

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