Thursday, 12 June 2014

Graph of the week: World Cup fever

The football World Cup is at our doorsteps and the fever is certainly there, at least in the nations which have qualified. So I think it's only appropriate to follow this up with a quick post - don't forget that the football World Cup is the most viewed sporting event in the world (yes, even more than the Olympics and the Super Bowl). Perhaps a more interesting economics-based introduction to the WC2014 would be to talk about the money revolving around the event, or the vast infrastructure spending done by the Brazilian government that triggered country-wide protests that still threaten to undermine the event (even though they would certainly be justified as the amount of potential corruption arising from all those infrastructure projects is massive), or even to discuss the likelihood of winning with respect to a whole variety of factors (FYI, the Economist has already done a very interesting estimation of the winning probabilities).

What caught my attention was a study done by YouGov which asked fans from 19 countries to rate the chances of the teams featuring at the World Cup (including their own) in addition to a number of other things (reported by the New York Times):
Source: NYT
The first interesting take from this is that fans from almost all the nations surveyed seem to think Brazil will win it (even the Spanish, Argentinian and the obviously delusional US fans which all put their team as the favorites, set Brazil as the second choice). Another thing Brazil is leading in is the perception on playing the most beautiful soccer. Spain is a close second. 

The most interesting for me is the middle column where the fans were asked who they will root against, i.e. which team they prefer the least (or dislike the most). Now these answers were driven by non-sporting motives - politics and neighboring rivalries mainly. The South American teams will root against Argentina, while the Argentinians' first nemesis is still England. The US seems to be very unpopular, particularly in Mexico, Russia, Italy, Chile, Colombia and yes - the US itself. This is purely to do with politics as the US football team is terrible and has no sporting chance. The US fans know this and couldn't care less. The US is also unpopular in Greece, whose first negative choice was - surprise, surprise - Germany. The hostility towards Iran is somewhat surprising given the heterogeneity of countries rooting against them, such as Australia, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Holland and Spain. I assume it has to do with religion. A reemergence of old political rivalries is the US-Russia and Japan-South Korea, where in all 4 cases the fans will root against their own country and the biggest rival. How strange. 

It is also interesting to notice that Brazilians picked Brazil as the second answer as to who they'll root against. Perhaps this has to do with the protests and the general dissatisfaction with the organization of the tournament. Or this could just be that part of Brazil which doesn't care about football at all, and are annoyed with all the fuss. A third option as to why they wouldn't want a Brazilian victory is the boost of popularity their President Dilma Rousseff would receive, which would be a cleaver diversion from Brazil's real problems (as Jorge Videla attempted to do during the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, which Argentina won amid controversy regarding their final group game win which launched them into the final - the effect didn't last for very long). 

Anyway, regardless of the motives, the controversies and the scandals, let's enjoy the 20th football World Cup! May the best team win!

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