Why this story matters:
On May 15, around 50 hooded men entered the Alcochete Football Academy of the Sporting Clube de Portugal, one of the biggest football teams of the country. According to media reports, what happened next was akin to a horror movie: players and coaches were harassed, insulted and beaten by the men, allegedly football supporters.
The event seized the country's attention, overshadowing World Cup preparations.
A far-ranging debate has sprung up around football violence. People are discussing hooliganism, the role of television and the bravado of team owners. But they are also coming to the conclusion that verbal abuse appears early in football, most often in youth clubs, and is often encouraged by parents. As the one highlighted by this story: how verbal abuse is a feature in youth football, many times urged on by the parents themselves.
Football is revered in Portugal, and many parents embrace it as a once in a lifetime opportunity for their children. The problem comes up when that turns into a "whatever it takes" mentality, taking its toll on young players, coaches and referees. This is a mentality that can also plant the seed for violence in the future, both inside and outside the field.
Details from the story:
- More than 140,000 young people are formally signed up as athletes with the Football Federation.
- Coach João do Rosário has dealt frequently with parents insulting him and other kids during matches. He says everything changed in the end of 1990s, when money became a big part of the game and "some parents started to behave unacceptably".
- Usually children are not the ones who initiate the verbal abuse, says one dad, Nélson Pombeiro. "Many parents project on their kids what they wish they could have become", he claims.
- Referees are the target of many attacks. Just between January and April 2017, 43 were assaulted. They are often openly insulted by parents during and after matches. According to referee Edgar Ramos, "that intoxicates kids". "It makes them more aggressive", he says.