According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, a fan can be described as an enthusiastic devotee or an ardent admirer or enthusiast. It also refers to supporters of a political party or those who admire actors, musicians and artists. The term sports fan describes supporters of an athlete, a team or a particular sport. The word fan, which was first used in 1682, is believed to be a shortened version of fanatic.
In terms of the degree of their zeal and emotion, sport fans can range from spectators to aggressive hooligans. People who merely enjoy the quality of a game and are not too emotionally involved in it fit in the first category. Individuals who literally devote themselves to a team have been the focus of extensive psychological and social analysis. In 2007, research into NBA supporters divided fans into three main categories. These include a person who is simply a fan who has some of interest in NBA; a loyal fan, which describes a person who is somewhat interested; and an avid fan, who is very interested in NBA.
Supporters are often organized into fan clubs, where people who share the same interest in a team discuss achievements and exchange views and opinions. Usually fans wear different tokens of their favorite team as part of their identification that promotes a feeling of belonging. This could include the team's jersey, badges, scarves and other memorabilia.
Some supporters paint their faces with the club's colors and most have their own songs, chants and anthems that express the pride and love for the team. Fans also know other songs that are aimed at humiliating and ridiculing opposing clubs. Supporters frequently travel to away games or visit home games together and pass their loyalty on to next generations within their families.
Sports fans are famous for their loyalty and devotion. For example, they support their team even if it does not come first in the league or has lost several matches in succession, or if most of the players from the previous season have been sold to other clubs. Supporting a particular club is a viewed as a matter of honor. Researchers believe one possible explanation of this phenomenon is the rising level of testosterone experienced after winning and its sudden drop when losing. Studies suggest that hormones could be the cause for incidents such as riots and fights between supporters. Psychologist James Dabbs, from Georgia State University, explains that in the fan's mind there is no clear distinction between themselves and their heroes.
Brawls and conflicts that are based on sports fandom are usually referred to as hooliganism. This behavior is most typical of soccer fans in Europe and Latin America but there are also cases in the United States and Canada connected to other sports like basketball, baseball and hockey. Hooliganism is thought to have originated in the United Kingdom and was first associated with sports violence during the 1980s.
British authorities have invested huge amounts of money and resources in order to deal with the problem of hooliganism. According to statistics announced by BBC News, more than 1,000 banning orders were issued during the 2004 to 2005 season. Figures show that in two-thirds of the matches no arrests were made and similar numbers were announced for the following years, which is seen as evidence that the policy of soccer violence prevention is working well.
Sports related violence remains a major issue in other countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Italy and in Eastern European countries. In Argentina, there were five deaths and dozens of injuries in the 2002 season alone. La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper, has reported that from 1924 to 2010 there were 249 deaths related to soccer violence. Athletes have also been subjects of fan aggression. In 1994, a supporter shot Colombian soccer player Andreas Escobar after he scored an own goal at the FIFA World Cup. Another Colombian player, striker Elson Becerra, was shot in a nightclub in 2006. In January 2010, Paraguayan international Salvador Cabanas was killed in a Mexico City bar.