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Why fans riot - whether their teams win or lose

Police on horseback ride through the street past a fire on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver.

Rich Lam/AFP/Getty Images

Loss, what loss? This morning many Canadians are feeling more depressed about the Vancouver post-game rioting than the actual defeat.

Why, oh, why do sports fans take out both their frustrations and their celebrations on parked cars, businesses and other people? It makes the losing even worse and takes the shine off a win.

Psychologists and sports fan behaviour experts have a number of theories. In a piece in National Geographic a few years back, Christian End, an expert in sport fan behaviour at Xavier University in Cincinatti, Ohio, explained that people in a crowd experience a process of "de-individuation." Individual accountability goes out the window, essentially.

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"When we're less accountable we tend to behave in ways we wouldn't," he said. "If I'm among thousands of celebrating people and I were to throw a beer bottle against a brick wall, you'd have a hard time picking me out."

And don't be so quick to blame the booze, either, he says.

"Alcohol plays a role, and sometimes it's pointed out as the ultimate villain, the sole contributor," he said. "But there are a lot of other things going on. They serve alcohol at church socials and in the theater, but you don't see these kinds of behaviors."

Of course, the mob violence is most confounding when it's the winning teams' fans who take to the streets to smash stuff. This blogger explored the role of testosterone as one of the reasons fans of winning teams, like the Los Angeles Lakers when they won the NBA finals last year, riot.

Canadians are becoming acquainted with both kinds of rioting, alas. Hockey fans will recall a post-win riot after this Montreal playoff win over, yes, the Boston Bruins in 2008, and again last year.

Other cities are not immune. Sports fans, are certain cities more prone to this kind of post-game violence? Are particular teams more often linked to rioting? Any arm-chair psychologists want to try and explain why?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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