Bad Behavior On The Soccer Field

It doesn’t pay off:

In the World Cup, the countries that most regularly get dealt red and yellow cards are some of the least successful to have entered the tournament.

Just looking at the number of cards given to a single team since 1970—when the current penalty system was first introduced—Argentina comes out on top with 99 yellow cards and seven reds. But Argentina is a perennial qualifier and has played 54 matches in that time. Quartz has crunched the numbers on a more telling metric: the average number of cards doled out to teams per game. The result: None of the top 20 offenders on our list has reached a World Cup final, at least since the card system began.

It looks like underdogs commit more penalties out of carelessness or desperation.

In other World Cup statistical analysis, Andrew Bertoli links participation in the World Cup to state aggression:

The results show that going to the World Cup increases aggression substantially. The countries that barely qualified experienced a large spike in aggression during the World Cup year. The difference in the aggression levels between the two groups is statistically significant and very unlikely to have been caused by chance (p<0.01). The estimated treatment effect is also much larger for (1) countries where soccer is the most popular sport and (2) non-democracies, which have a history of using sports to generate public support for their aggressive foreign policies.

The qualifiers not only took military action more often than the non-qualifiers, but the actions they took tended to be more violent.

The Economist instead focuses on World Cup politics in Brazil, the host country:

Mega-sporting events, [Brazil’s Dance with the Devil author Dave Zirin] writes, have become “neoliberal Trojan horses, preying on our love of sports to enforce a series of policies that would in any other situation be roundly rejected”. World Cup euphoria, he argues, has given the Brazilian government cover to pursue a radical agenda of austerity, privatisation and the mass eviction of slum-dwellers.

Mr Zirin’s indictment of massive sporting events certainly has merit. The Brazilian reality, however, is not as neat as he would have it. The country’s difficulties with staging global showcases long precede its supposed neoliberal turn. In 1922, when hosting an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, the government forcibly relocated many slum-dwellers in its eagerness to present a modern face to the world. The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup, in 1950, critics objected that the money would be better spent on schools and hospitals.

Mr Zirin is too quick to find external causes for Brazil’s internal problems.