In ancient societies, athletics and especially competitive contact games always have been rough, but aggression in the past was tempered by an insistence that playing hard, playing to win, did not countenance playing to cheat and to hurt. One of the very first nations that expressed athletic ideals, were the Greeks. As enunciated by Pindar, the athletic ideal incorporated courage and endurance with modesty, dignity, and fair-mindedness, those elusive qualities the Greeks called Aidos. As sports became more specialized, the general populace increasingly withdrew into spectatorship. Sports history reveals that although Greek sports had increasingly marred by corruption and bribes, nonetheless they flourished in an era which witnessed the rapid expansion of stadiums and arenas under the Roman Empire. During the Roman Empire, violence in sports became the generally accepted principle and spectators not only endorsed it, but also embraced it as a social norm.
In recent years sports violence has become to be perceived as a social problem. Commissions have been appointed in Canada and England to investigate violence among hockey players and soccer fans. Numerous examples of violence in professional sports exist today, as counties like the United States, Canada, Greece, Italy and Germany, report court cases have been heard which concern the victims of violence perpetrators. Newspapers, magazines and television programs portray bloodied athletes and riotous fans at hockey, boxing, football, soccer, baseball, and basketball games with what appears to be increasing regularity. But are sports violence incidents actually increasing, and if so, what is the reason of such a negative increase? Or does the heightened public attention and media focus on sports violence reflect not an increase in the incidence or severity of aggression, but greater public concern with moral issues and political discourse?
Contrary to popular belief, there appears to be growing dissatisfaction with sports violence. Changes in sports rules, developments in the design of equipment, and even the physical characteristics of modern sports arenas evolved in an effort to reduce violence or its consequences. But still, among athletic management teams, government officials, fans and athletes themselves, there is an ambivalence attitude towards sports violence. The ambivalence takes the form of justifying the existence of violence in sports, but not taking personal responsibility for it. Coaches and managers tend to blame fans, saying that violence is what attracts people into stadiums, as the risk entailed makes the game more “interesting”. Athletes frequently admit that they are opposed to violence, but it is expected of them by coaches. Fans justify it by attributing aggressiveness to athletes and to situational aspects of the game. Spectators view violence as an inherent part of some sports as one cannot play games like hockey or football, without accepting the necessity of violent action.
Nevertheless, public opinion tends to focus more and more on sports violence as major advances in the technologies used have increased media coverage making information available to a vast global audience. Thus, contemporary critics tend to consider sports violence as a worldwide phenomenon with highly disturbing future course and social outcomes.