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Can football ruin your relationship?


What happens if two people in a relationship are fanatics of separate causes – such as opposing teams in a football tournament? GARDY CHACHA explores the unfortunate findings of a UK study on the rise domestic violence after the World Cup and pursues the link in Kenyan homes.

By the time her team Brazil was 5-0 down, Edith Mwando couldn't take the humiliation anymore. Her husband, Timothy Mathenge, appeared to enjoy every minute of Brazil's demise and that didn't go down well with the queen of the house.

She confiscated the TV remote and switched to a different channel. Blocked out from watching the remainder of the match, Timothy, in an attempt to avert a 'war' but still enjoy the game, dashed to the nearest sports bar in the dark fog of the night to finish off the second half.

In the end, even after rubbing each other the wrong way in supporting opposing teams, husband and wife united and moved on with life.

"There was no war," says Timothy, who confesses deep love for his wife. "At the end of the game it is for enjoyment. Life goes on, after all, the teams were in Brazil; my wife and I are in Kenya."

On her part, Edith defends her move to block her husband from the household's TV management affairs – at least for that one game – to stop him from making fun of her favourite team: Brazil.

She says: "He wouldn't stop laughing at me. As each goal went into the net he kept at it. It was more painful losing with him laughing at me than if we were to just lose the game. But he is my husband: we left the games behind us and life went back to normal right after. It was just for enjoyment – nothing is worth fighting the person you love for."

The Mathenges easily pass for a level-headed Kenyan couple. The 'little' disagreement, they say, was not really war but a light moment where the wife exercises her powers to control the household in the face of her well-muscled knight in shining armour.

It appears though, not all couples match up to the level-headedness Timothy and Edith. As the game commences, there is a completely different kind of kick-off in some households; one that bears repercussions for one spouse or the entire family

Coming in the wake of a hotly contested tournament in Brazil, disturbing statistics indicate that in Britain, gender-based violence (GBV) increases several folds every time the world cup comes around.

Researchers from Lancaster University examined crime figures from Lancashire Police during the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups and found there was more violence on days when the home team, England, played. The rise in domestic violence in Lancashire when the team lost didn't dissipate much when the team won or drew, at which time GBV went up by 26 percent.

Results of the study, published in in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, found the number of reports on match days rose from 64 in 2002 to 99 in 2010. In a town called Surrey, GBV took a 61 per cent leap.

The authors of the study, Dr Stuart Kirby and Professor Brian Francis wrote in their findings that "Although it is difficult to say the tournament is a causal factor, it does concentrate the risk factors into a short and volatile period, thereby intensifying the concepts of masculinity, rivalry and aggression."

Kenya is yet to conduct such a survey. But even so, the same (or even worse) could be happening within. When husbands – in many instances – take full control of TV in the house, an axis of war appears in place.

The effects of football fanatism have been witnessed before in the country. In February this year, David Mwangi, an Arsenal FC fan drew out a knife and stabbed Anthony Mutethia, a Liverpool supporter, after an altercation that emerged when Mwangi's team lost 5-0. Not only that, Kenyans have been treated to scenes of lawlessness when Gor Mahia plays AFC Leopards. There is no denying how emotions run high during matches.

Sports it seems, affects relationships.

Take Jennifer Nyambura and Simon Githenya for instance. The couple have been married for more than a decade. Jennifer, loves soap operas, and keeps tabs with her favourites every day. Simon, on normal days, may once in a while catch up with the news to understand what is happening within and beyond our borders.

Come World cup, Simon cannot resist the allure of the TV remote. It is his 'soap opera' time. Miles upon miles from the venue of the games, Simon becomes a real-time spectator and keeps vigil as long as there is a ball and 22 men vying for it.

"I don't like football at all," says Jennifer. "I enjoy soap operas. But I had to put keep off TV through the World Cup since I know how he loves football. It was just for a month and I decided to let him enjoy. At times I joined him just to keep him company and ask what is happening and who is winning the game."

While the tournament ended without a major fallout between them, Jennifer admits that she felt condoned off from TV. She joked on her Facebook page: "Is there anyone with an extra TV?"

But that was not the only misery the World Cup brought on her. Jennifer says she loathed lonely nights while Simon kept his eyes open in the living room. She at times longed for his touch and warm embrace but knew that until the stadium in her house closed down to games she would have to wait.

It was not an easy time for Jennifer by all means especially considering that it is in those night hours that intimacy chimes in the background.

Simon supported all African teams as well as Brazil, Argentina and Germany. I ask him if he felt angry every time a favourite team lost. "Not at all. I love enjoying the beauty of the game. I felt no anger whatsoever. At the end someone has to lose and the other wins. I love analysing how the game proceeds and the tactical styles each team employs. When it's over, life goes on: no war or suicide or anything of such kind," says Simon.

It is unfortunate that violence could emanate from something created to bring people together. Carol Radull, a Sports commentator and radio journalist at Radio Africa Group finds it outrageous that sports would be a reason to abuse a spouse in one way or another.

"It is for all of us to enjoy. In every game, there must be a winner. Fans should approach each game with a mind to enjoy and be happy. At the end of the day, life is more important than anything else. There is no reason to fight a friend, a spouse, a child or any other person, and take your anger out on them just because your team lost. Sports is for everyone's enjoyment regardless of the results," she says.

Speaking to Eve Woman, deputy chair of LSK Renee Omondi pointed that "assault of any kind is a criminal offence under the penal code. Anybody who faces any kind of violence can seek recourse in court but the case will be treated as a criminal offence and not domestic violence. Currently though there is no law that specifically addresses domestic violence."

Just before this year's tournament – which ended last month – a campaign clip aired on British televisions suggested that no one wanted England to win than women: if they didn't the disappointment would sneak inside the household.

Photo: Gardy Chacha


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