The need for a violence prevention programme in ice hockey: A case study on how hegemonic masculinity supports and challenges violent behaviour in Swedish ice hockey | A summary


Daniel Alsarve
Department of Health Sciences, Örebro University, and
RF-SISU Örebro County, Örebro, Sweden.

Comprehensive research has highlighted, problematised, discussed, and analysed the problem of men/masculinities in sports. Although it is difficult to show a causal relationship, some research indicates that male team sporting cultures, such as those within ice hockey, make players violent both inside and outside the sporting arena. Of course, not all male ice hockey players and coaches are violent inside or outside the ice hockey rinks, although some of the attitudes that are fuelled in these environments can be considered problematic in that they create social norms that reproduce inequalities and beliefs about men’s superiority in general. Against this background, this article argues that by changing coaches’ and players’ demeaning attitudes, a team or a club could play a developing and preventative role in society. The purpose was to initiate a discussion about how so-called problematic and sometimes contradictory masculinity ideals can become risk factors and to identify how a violence prevention programme in Swedish ice hockey may be beneficial.

Ideally, such programmes would employ a critical perspective on men and masculinities based on a feminist analysis of societal relations. The article was a part of a more extensive project on Swedish ice hockey covering the changes in masculinity ideals and violence norms from 1965 until today, financed by the Swedish Research Council for Sport Science.

The results were based on interviews with five experienced male ice hockey coaches in Sweden. As an illustration of how masculinity ideals can be contradictive some of the coaches explain that aggression and violence in the game can be both problematic and progressive. A certain level of aggression and a general willingness to give and take body checking and other self-sacrificing, physical contacts are key in (male) ice hockey However, the coaches provided examples of (successful) players with a ‘tough’ playing style on the ice who, after their careers, had experienced problems with for example alcohol and aggressiveness at team parties. Two coaches also thought that for some players (and not all) the ice hockey culture could become a risk zone for developing addictions to alcohol and violent and aggressive behaviour off the ice. Contrary to this reasoning, three of the coaches talked about their experiences of the ‘hardest’ players also being very kind off the ice, that ice hockey had the potential to rescue boys and young men from a more crime-related future and that, in some cases, the sport could function as a rescue service for them. The ‘violent’ character of the sport can thus be said to have two sides to it: a rescue potential and a risk potential.

With such and other findings in mind, the article closes with preventative measures and best practices in order to minimise the risk of hockey players becoming violent outside the rink. These interventions are unlikely to change the entire ice hockey culture; rather, they provide a framework for the acquisition of additional relevant content.

Preventative action no. 1:
To erase sexist and derogative attitudes and actions so that they do not escalate.

There is a need to make men and women in general in ice hockey more conscious about sexism, homophobia and other derogative attitudes. Ideally, this would provide management with tools that inform, challenge and change such behaviour and encourage a more inclusive and democratic culture. The alternative of not intervening in this type of verbal violence would increase the risk of a degrading culture being established. At best, the initiative for culture-changing work is introduced by people in management positions at team, club and national association levels.

Preventative action no. 2:
Zero tolerance of alcohol consumption and drugs

Although there is no single or one-sided masculinity ideal in ice hockey, coaches’ and players’ attitudes towards women/femininity, pornography and alcohol appear to be crucial. As the majority of coaches agreed that team parties could be drunken affairs, it would seem to be essential to implement a zero tolerance policy. (Recently, there have also been examples of the media exposing ice hockey teams’ and players’ drinking habits.)

Preventative action no. 3:
Change the rules in order to eliminate hard and reckless play

Finally, aiming at the structural level of the ice hockey culture, this action underlines the potential problems with ice hockey’s physical and/or violent features, such as checkings and, not least, the (more or less) constant fights that arise in connection with, for example, goalkeepers’ puck blocking. Implementing rules that erase these kinds of actions from the sport would seem necessary. In fact, it is a bit contradictive to encourage inclusive, democratic, professional and appropriate behaviour in the changing room if this is not followed by similar actions on the ice.

Certainly, there are challenges connected to the implementation of these prevetantive actions. But, the main purpose in the article was to contribute with knowledge about risk factors in team sports and how attitudes and behaviour in a team or club can be regarded as both progressive and destructive. One might conclude that this culture should remain intact; however, it is the important to be aware of the risk that leaving it unchecked entails, both for individuals and the society.

Copyright © Daniel Alsarve 2021

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