Football & Divorce
A recent study that found divorce rates are the highest in households where the husbands are avid soccer fans comes from a surprising place this week, Egypt. Two Ain Shams University researchers, Hamdi Abdul Azeem and Mona el-Sayyed Hafez, conducted the first study of its kind in a country where the subject of divorce has long been off limits even though Egypt has one of the highest divorce rates in the Arab world.
The researchers discovered that the more often Egyptian husbands watch soccer matches, especially in the cases of recently married couples where the wife has zero interest in the sport, the higher the risk of an eventual divorce. The unusual study was published at a precipitous time as two popular arch rival Cairo based teams squared off for the first time since the recent Egyptian revolution. The match was seen as a test of civil order in Egypt following the battles between protesters and police in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The game was actually held just a few hours after the fighting had died down in the Square and was generally viewed as a sign that soccer was able to bridge some of the deep divides in Egyptian society.
It was published as Cairo arch rivals Al Ahly Soccer Club and Al Zamalek Soccer Club played their first match since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. The match was widely seen as a litmus test of whether the Egyptian revolution had bridged some of the deep fault lines in Egyptian society. Because Egyptians in Cairo base so much of their identity on which one of the two clubs they supported, past matches between the Ahly and Zamalek soccer clubs have been extremely violent and required hundreds of policemen just to maintain order. That the recent match went smoothly appeared to reaffirm that supporters of both clubs set aside their animosity to focus on soccer.
The soccer match did nothing to improve the current state of Egyptian marriages, but it does point to the effects of soccer on Egyptian families, as the highest risk for divorce was found in families where the wife did not like football at all and the husband is totally engaged in watching soccer and following soccer news on a daily basis. The study noted that divorce rates tended to spike during the Premier League season and pointed out the case of a Cairo mother of two saying that her husband had divorced her after she had refused to let him watch Al Ahly play. She said her husband insulted her and became physically abusive when Al Ahly lost a match.
The study found that the divorce rate in Egypt is higher than in most other Arab countries particularly during the soccer season. The researchers concluded that many soccer-addicted husbands need counseling, but rarely seek it. The study also showed that a husbands’ spending habits related to soccer paraphernalia and match tickets was a major source of dissatisfaction in marriages where the husband and wife did not share a passion for the game. Researcher Azeem stated that
“Such expenditures tighten the budget of families to the point that they are barely able to meet their basic needs, and therefore leaving no money for recreation. In addition, a man and his wife need to communicate in order to stay strong, but unfortunately soccer-instigated tension means that espousal violence is getting the better of people,” Mr. Azeem wrote “It is a reality today that millions of Egyptian husbands have no choice but to stay home, seeking entertainment from watching soccer matches. In doing so, families barely talk to each other anymore and their feelings are always tense.” The Egyptian soccer and divorce dilemma sounds a lot like the “NFL widow” syndrome here in the United States, where husbands devoted to football abandon their families in favor of the TV screen each Fall. In that respect, both Middle Eastern and Western men seem to share the same bad habit.