What's the best way to deal with being booed?

Man being booed Image copyright Thinkstock

English athletes at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow have reportedly been briefed on how to cope with possible booing by Scots fans. What's the best way for public figures to react to such behaviour, asks Justin Parkinson.

Collective booing - or jeering - goes back at least to public festivals held in ancient Greece. Some just laugh it off. When Chancellor George Osborne was booed as he presented medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, he smiled. "Booing's all part of the pantomime nature of sport," says David Fletcher, a sports psychologist at Loughborough University. "People are looking for entertainment. I think Osborne realised that."

Quiet dignity is another way of surviving. During the 1998-9 season, David Beckham was constantly booed at Manchester United's away games after being sent off in a World Cup match against Argentina, which many said cost England the game. Through a series of sensational performances for his country over the next few years, he became a national hero. "Beckham demonstrated his inner toughness," says Fletcher. "It was admirable. You have to have that sort of focus to train yourself to cope with booing and vilification."

Psychologists practise visualisation techniques and advocate measures including meditation and personal calming routines to help them cope with the pressures of abuse by crowds. But sportspeople also have to demonstrate imperviousness. England cricketer Stuart Broad was booed by Australian supporters throughout the recent Ashes series, after he refused to walk when not given out for an obvious catch the previous summer. Rather than wilting, he had a good series. Fletcher describes Broad as having a "type A" behaviour pattern, meaning he is little affected by not being liked and able to focus is on getting the job done. Others have to work hard to block out criticism.

Booing - a disapproving sound designed to mimic the "lowing of oxen" - has been used in Britain since at least 1801, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, yet crowds have loved to rile performers for far longer. In Roman times crowd disapproval literally became a matter of life or death, as emperors listened to its verdict when deciding whether defeated gladiators should be killed. Perhaps Commonwealth Games athletes might remember that as they put their own suffering into perspective.

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