Perception of critical situations involving football fans: dynamics of conflict escalation and de-escalation

Brechbühl, Alain; Schumacher-Dimech, Anne Marie; Seiler, Roland (12 February 2015). Perception of critical situations involving football fans: dynamics of conflict escalation and de-escalation. In: 7. Jahrestagung der sportwissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft der Schweiz (SGS). „Sportwissenschaften - Im Plural ?“. Lausanne. 12.-13.02.2015.

The perception of critical situations involving football fans – how conflicts escalate or de-escalate

Authors: Brechbühl, A.1, Schumacher, A.1 & Seiler, R.1
1Institute of Sport Science, University of Bern, Switzerland

Fan violence in the context of football matches is a prominent issue in today’s western societies and Switzerland presents no exception. A lot of research has been conducted on reasons for fan violence, mostly with fans of national teams. A prominent model is the Elaborated Social Identity Model (ESIM; Drury & Reicher, 2000): ESIM highlights the importance of interactions between the involved groups and their effect on the development of social identities. Another model is the aggravation mitigation model (AM model; Hylander & Guvå, 2010) which illustrates factors that can contribute towards an escalation or non-escalation of group violence, such as the “categorization” of the opponent group. Despite these models, research about the individual perceptions, and in particular, what factors distinguish between an escalation versus a non-escalation of a potentially violent situation in domestic football, is as yet scarce. This explorative study examines perceptions of critical situations in the domestic football fan context in Switzerland.

An explorative qualitative design was employed to gather data about critical situations (CS) around football matches of two clubs of the Raiffeisen Super League. A CS is defined as a setting in or around the football stadium where violence between football fans and another group could occur. Eight CS were identified and analysed. Fifty-nine narrative interviews with individuals involved in a CS, e.g. fans, police officers or security personnel, were conducted. Interviews were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA).

The involved opposing groups expressed group-specific perceptions. Furthermore a strong tendency to negatively stereotype the opponent group was observed. Provocative symbols, such as balaclavas or riot-gear uniforms, were considered as highly relevant for the interpretation of the situation. Successful communication and sufficient distance between opponent groups supported the appeasement of a CS. These findings also underline the importance of knowledge about the local fan culture. This culture serves as basis for the perception of legitimacy, which was assessed to be essential for a de-escalation of a CS by fans.

This study improves the understanding of fan violence in the domestic football context in Switzerland. Based on the results it is suggested to deploy security or police forces without riot gear but with the goal of seeking dialogue with the fans to increase the likelihood of a peaceful ending in a CS. The findings also support the applicability of the ESIM (Drury & Reicher, 2000) and the AM model (Hylander & Guvå, 2010) in the context of domestic fan violence. Due to possible differences in the local fan cultures in Switzerland, research in this area should be continued.

Drury, J., & Reicher, S. (2000). Collective action and psychological change: The emergence of new social identities. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 579-604.
Hylander, I., & Guvå, G. (2010). Misunderstanding of out-group behaviour: Different interpretations of the same crowd events among police officers and demonstrators. Nordic Psychology, 62, 25-47.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Sport Science (ISPW)
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Sport Science (ISPW) > Sport Science II [discontinued]

UniBE Contributor:

Brechbühl, Alain, Schumacher Dimech, Anne Marie, Seiler, Roland


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
700 Arts > 790 Sports, games & entertainment




Alain Brechbühl

Date Deposited:

20 Mar 2015 08:11

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:26


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