10.11.2021 change 10.11.2021

Fanatics are often middle class, says new study

Credit: Fotolia Credit: Fotolia

Radical football fans fanatics are often recruited from the middle class, which contradicts the stereotype of a 'hooligan' from the margins of society. The catalyst for joining the ranks of fanatical football fans is the need for bonds and the lack of proper role models at home, research by sociologists shows.

Scientists recently summarized their international research conducted as part of the European Commission's DARE (Dialogue About Radicalisation and Equality) project. Researchers from 13 countries took part in the project led by the University of Manchester. The most important questions of the project were: how do young people come into contact with radicalising content, how do they react to it and what impact does it have on their lives?

In Poland, sociologists focused on radical football fans who call themselves fanatics. In other countries, militant Islamist and nationalist groups were studied. 

DARE project coordinator from Collegium Civitas, Dr. Paweł Kuczyński, said: “Radicalisation is a political process that can have various backgrounds. Once it turns into violence, it becomes a threat to the social order.”

For the needs of the Polish part of the project, researchers conducted 26 in-depth interviews with representatives of fanatics - both younger, aged 15-30, and older ones.

Dr. Kuczyński said: “We reached both the youngest fanatics, as well as people who already went through the period of tribal fights.

“We mainly wanted to talk to younger people, at the age when most of the views that accompany us in life are formed. However, many of them did not want to talk to us about their experiences.

“It is not true that most of them belong to pauperised working-class environments. The catalyst for joining the ranks of fanatical football fans is not their origin or class affiliation, but a strong need for bonds and belonging.”

Sociologists admit that some of the fanatics with whom they talked agreed that a discussion about radicalisation is necessary. One of them said: “There is a problem and we need to talk about it. We are radicalising ourselves in various aspects of life. I have to admit that in some respects this also applies to me.” However, as researchers point out, fanatics did not want to be identified with extremists. Football fans said that for them radicalism mainly meant terrorism, not fan groups.

According to Dr. Kuczyński, radicalisation is a process. It begins with a sense of alienation, harm and marginalisation that accompany some young people, not only in Poland. During social and biological maturation, young men usually looks for male role models. Then the phenomenon of 'toxic masculinity' can occur. According to Kuczyński, this is accompanied by religious and national factors that make radicalised football fans, not only in Poland, a 'political prey' of interest to xenophobic parties that use extreme ideology.

He said: “In such a situation, a young man looking for role models that he often does not find at home or at school, can find his place in an environment devoted to the club colours of his football team. There, he finds recognition, respect, everything he does not have at home or at school.

“We can talk about the +zoom+ effect, thanks to which honour, courage and other qualities cultivated by football fans in the form of tribal games and rituals create fertile ground for the development of national mythology. As a result, club colours give way to national colours. Fanatics consider themselves true patriots, they identify with the heroic history of Poland, which allows them to take over the national symbolism and build their individual identity on it."

Sociologists note in their report that in a society where inequality appears to be an insurmountable barrier, where social conflicts are becoming stronger, the conditions are favourable for radicalisation. The wrote: “Its key symptom is looking for an enemy. Internal enemies will be sexual, ethnic or national minorities, as well as elites stigmatised by populists. External enemies may include the EU bureaucracy, international conspiracy against Poland, globalisation.”

On the one hand, a sense of social injustice and harm and the search for one's identity contribute to radicalisation, which should be treated as a process. But there is no definite answer as to what leads to extremism and violence. The DARE project found that the role of social media cannot be overestimated. The Internet is a place of self-radicalisation, where young persons themselves find poisoned content. It is also an environment for recruiters to actively attract extremist supporters.

Kuczyński said: “In the case of football fanatics, the experience is the practice of violence, including pitched battles, fights with the police, other fans, MMA trainings. On the other hand, attention should be paid to the justification of violence, referring to ideology, religion or political struggle. The two factors meet and create a potential for radicalisation that is present in many countries, not just in Poland.”

He added that the intensification of the radicalisation process is a threat to democracy.

In conversations with fanatics, the project coordinator was surprised that violence was becoming something natural. He said: “It is part of the game that can lead to injury and even death of an opponent. At first it is a +tribal+ game, but it can become a higher stakes game in which the community of football club supporters is replaced by a higher order community: national or religious.” (PAP)

Author: Szymon Zdziebłowski

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