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27 Jun 2015
Correlations in International Soccer Rankings

I have been following the Women’s World Cup for the past few weeks and during the games I got to thinking about the difference between the worlds of Men’s and Women’s soccer. Men’s soccer is dominated by Europe. Fifteen of the top 20 men’s teams are European, and the other 5 are from South or Central America. When the Men’s World Cup comes around there is little doubt that the champions will be from either Western Europe or South America. FIFA makes sure there are a smattering of teams from the rest of the world mixed in, but only rarely is an outside team considered a contender.

Women’s international soccer is much more, well, international. Only 11 of the top 20 teams are European, and the other 9 come from every continent except Africa (Nigeria is the top African team this year, and they are ranked 33rd).

My question is what factors cause the power distribution in Women’s soccer to spread out so differently from that of Men’s soccer? Clearly this is an extremely complicated question because there are so many intertwined factors involved, but for fun I looked at just two. My first thought was that there may be a correlation between gender equality and international ranking. Countries that treat women equally to men should be less likely to stifle the athletic talents and ambitions of their daughters. To try to measure this I compared Gender Gap Indices (GGI), as calculated by the World Economic Forum in this report, to FIFA soccer rankings for the 35 top ranked countries.

GGI vs. Rank

Seat-of-the-pants-analysis: As you can see there is a maybe a bit of a trend, but nothing huge like I was hoping for.

After going back to the gender gap report and reading about the GGI in more detail, I realized that it was a poor choice of index. GGI tells us about the conditions relative women are living under relative to men in a certain country. So a developing nation that treats men and women equally would receive a perfect score of 1.0, while a superpower that oppresses women would receive a low score probably less than 0.5. The superpower, however, could have a better women’s team just because they have more resources to put into sports programs.

I decided that a better study would be to look at GGI versus the difference between the rankings of a country’s men’s and women’s teams. It’s an attempt at plotting gender inequality versus soccer ranking inequality.

GGI vs. Rank Inequality

The way to think of the x axis in this plot is “how many places better the women’s team is”. It’s a bit confusing becuase a lower rank means a better team. The correlation here is much higher than for plain old GGI versus rank, as expected. Countries where women live in better conditions relative to their male compatriots tend to have relatively better women’s soccer teams. Also, a rough grouping showed up between the men’s soccer powerhouses (labeled by “Europe”) and the rest of the world.

Finally, I looked at GDP versus soccer rankings. Of course there is a strong correlation, because money controls everything!

GDP vs. Rank GDP vs. Log Rank

Raw data I used (csv). Recorded in June 2015. Sloppy plot script I used.

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