Will the most successful teams at Euro 2020 get support from an unusual source – democracy? And could the tournament flops have struggled so much because they are run by autocrats?
These are not questions for every fan, but they could be on the mind of those with a soft spot for politics and football. (You know, the kind of people who read this article. Or the kind of person who writes it.)
So we went to MediaFrolic to see if we could find a connection between the political systems and the performance of the teams at the tournament.
Before data nerds wave red cards, one thing is clear: this is not a scientific study. It’s just a little bit of fun. Do you remember fun? What did we have before the pandemic? What is football about?
So let’s do what modern footballers do – keep playing and later let’s say VAR that we were sidelined.
In our search for answers, we plotted the goal difference for each country at Euro 2020 after the group stage against its score on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index.
On the field below, the countries closest to the top right corner have the best goal difference and the best democracy scores. The left-backs have the worst goal difference and the least democratic.
What do you know? Two of the three teams with the worst goal difference – Russia and Turkey – also have the worst democratic scores. Meanwhile, countries with high democracy scores almost all have a positive goal difference.
You can probably hear the stats fans in the stands booing and screaming their favorite offensive chants: Correlation is not causality! Small sample size!
You’re right! And that’s not all. First of all, some of the teams had tougher opponents than others in their groups so we don’t compare like with like in terms of goal difference.
And of course there are numerous ingredients that make a good football team – like finding 11 people who are really good at football and organizing them well.
However, some studies have shown that broader factors play a role in athletic success – like the strength of a country’s economy. Unsurprisingly, rich countries tend to do better in the Olympics.
An earlier look at democracy scores and football rankings revealed a “statistically significant correlation” between the two, with more democratic nations performing better on the pitch.
The author of this data dive was careful to say that this doesn’t mean that one is causing the other. You can find statistical matches between all sorts of things that are clearly unrelated.
But if you are looking for a team to support the Euro 2020 knockout stage and think that democracy could make a difference, how about a partnership with Denmark?
They are not among the favorites, but they have the second highest democracy score. And, in keeping with a non-scientific study, there is another good reason to support it: sentimentality.