A Chinese football fan dies at his home after going 11 nights without sleep due to Euro 2012 addiction,” was a headline in Foxsports.com this week. A Google search on “football fanaticism in Euro 2012” reveals numerous reports of this incident among other articles and pictures of fans exhibiting what can only be described as psychotic behaviour, outfitted in the most ridiculous costumes, with faces and bodies painted as if they were the canvas of a child in a Geography or Social Studies class…quite entertaining, actually. While I understand dressing in one’s country’s colours, singing songs of patriotism and inspiration, and waving one’s national flag in show of support, I fail to understand the lengths to which some fans go when their club or country’s team is playing. I am not speaking of the racist actions plaguing Euro 2012, as this is a topic for another article. Rather, I am referring to the ecstatic jubilation and celebrations of the fans when their team wins, the tribe-like chanting, screaming, cheering during play, the tears and expressions of disbelief and grief on their faces when their team misses an easy shot or loses a match, as if their lives depended on it. We’ve also all seen the Czech fans with their hands above their heads clapping in complete unison as if performing on some World stage.
I did a little research into the psychology of the sports fan to try to understand this fanatic phenomenon; to try to understand why someone would stay up for eleven nights without sleep simply to watch football, and die from exhaustion as a result.
Psychologists have investigated this fanatic (in fact this is where the word “fan” comes from) phenomenon in depth and research has shown similarities between how a fan identifies with a sports team and how a person identifies with his country, race, and even gender. For many fans, identifying with a team is important to their sense of self, and apparently a huge part of how these fans feel depends upon what their team is doing. The team successes and failures impact the fan’s self-esteem. This seems a little far-fetched to me. If the self-worth of Trinidadian fans was dependent upon the performance of the Soca Warriors and the West Indies cricket team, we would have a very depressed country…unless Trinis have developed such great coping skills from the repetitive losses and disappointments, that these no longer faze us. But for highly allied fans, the team is an extension of the self. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in the 1990’s asked committed fans of collegiate basketball teams how they felt after showing them clips of their team winning or losing. They also asked them to rate their performance on motor, mental and socially-related tasks after viewing these films. The researchers found that the participants who viewed their team winning, rated their ability to perform the tasks higher than those who saw their team losing. They concluded that how faithful fans view their team’s win or loss is akin to how they would view personal success or failure. I found this very interesting and rather risky, considering that we have no control over the performance of the team we support. Maybe this is the reason sports fans develop superstitions. They use these superstitions as a way to cope with the lack of control they have over the outcome of the sport, which they care so much about.
Other psychological studies found that social connectedness is another reason sports fans follow and support teams, and this is important for psycho-social well-being. Euro Cup draws thousands of fans, and to be next to people wearing the same shirt, supporting the same team, from the same country and speaking the same language in a foreign stadium forms an instant connection and can increase the feeling that one has shared values with these individuals. Remove the social aspect of football and the sport loses something. I admit that it is much more fun and entertaining watching the games with friends than alone, and I always go to a sporting event with friends, never by myself. Having people with whom I can interact and share opinions, celebrations and disappointments makes the experience of the sporting event much more memorable and meaningful. But why do Trinidadians continue to identify heavily with and support the floundering Soca Warriors and the fumbling West Indies Cricket Team? In addition to the above reasons, I suppose that because we are a small country, we depend highly upon them for international recognition and thus, our identity as a nation or region is heavily tied to them. They therefore become a symbol representing who we are as a people, a country. Their few successes give us a place on the worldwide stage and educate others about our small twin-island, bringing us the satisfaction and esteem that comes with being recognized. Yet their frequent defeats and controversies continue to highlight and facilitate the usual expectations of Third World countries. Despite unrewarded loyalties to our local teams, many Trinidadians are surprisingly fanatical about Euro 2012 and strongly identify with teams such as Spain and Germany. Maybe this is because we need some other team upon which we can rest our hopes, our self-worth and sense of belonging as these needs are certainly not fulfilled at home.
In our June 15 edition Asha DeFreitas was credited as the author of that column when in fact it was Carla Rauseo’s. The Guardian regrets the error and sincerely apologise to our readers and the author.
Carla Rauseo, P.T., M.S., C.S.C.S. is a physical therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Total Rehabilitation Centre, El Socorro.