Game theory

Sports

  • The World Cup

    France wins the World Cup, beating Croatia 4-2

    by T.W.

    TWENTY years after their first triumph, the French national football team are again world champions. Their 4-2 victory over Croatia in Moscow ended a World Cup that turned out to be perhaps the most gripping in a generation.

    The 2018 World Cup was richer in drama than it was in elite standard football. While France will not be regarded as a team to rival Spain in 2010 or Germany in 2014, the last two World Cup winners, they overcame the misfortune of being in the trickier half of the draw to reach the final, defeating Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium before beating Croatia. All four of their knockout-stage victories were secured in regular time.

  • Pumped-up kicks

    Is the World Cup really free from doping?

    by T.A.W.

    THE FOOTBALL World Cup and the Olympic games have long vied for the title of the world’s biggest sporting event. The marquee competitions for many of the planet’s most popular athletes are watched by nearly half of humanity, and generate more revenue than the annual GDP of one-quarter of the world’s countries (roughly $9bn for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, and a projected $6bn for the current World Cup in Russia). Yet with so much on the line, there seems to be a vast gap in how willingly competitors in the two events use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). 

    During the past decade, more than 200 athletes have failed doping tests at the Olympics.

  • Group expectations

    Despite Germany’s exit, this World Cup has been quite predictable

    by J.T.

    IT WILL go down as one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history. On June 27th Germany exited the tournament at the group stage, marking the first time that the country had failed to reach the quarter-finals since 1938. The debacle was all the more astounding for its farcical conclusion. The reigning world champions lost 2-0 to a South Korean side that had already been eliminated, and which delivered the knockout blow when the German goalkeeper ventured into the opposition half, leaving his goal wide open. 

  • In the red

    Can Russia’s national football team emerge from its recent slump?

    by K.K.

    ON JUNE 14th Russia kicked off its home World Cup with a thumping 5-0 win. Few of the 78,011 delighted fans at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium cared that the opponents, Saudi Arabia, had the lowest-ranked squad at the tournament, according to most forecasters. Nor did they worry about “expected goals”—a statistic that estimates how often a team would have scored and conceded on average, given the quality of its chances. Number-crunchers suggested that the most probable margin would have been about 2-0. Most commentators dwelt instead on a pair of outrageous curling strikes by Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin. 

  • A lack of clear chances

    Why predicting the winner of the World Cup is so difficult

    by J.T.

    IF ONLY Paul were still alive. Though he had never watched a game of football, learnt how to use a spreadsheet or issued a press release about his state-of-the-art machine-learning-based forecasts, he was globally renowned for his preternatural ability to predict results at major international tournaments. Throughout the European Championship of 2008 and the World Cup of 2010 he was wrong on only two occasions. That Paul had only ever issued 14 predictions before his untimely death in October 2010 did not detract from his legendary status. Nor did the fact that he had tipped his native Germany 11 times.

  • Cheating in cricket

    A ball-tampering row consumes Australia

    by M.J.

    IT HAS been a bad week for Australian cricket. Seven days ago, its Test team were playing a highly competitive, though bad-tempered, series against South Africa and performing creditably. In their captain, Steve Smith, they had one of the all-time great batsmen, while his deputy, David Warner, was a reliably intimidating presence at the top of the order. A young batsman, Cameron Bancroft, was also showing promise on his first overseas tour. Then, an ill-advised attempt at ball tampering was spotted by TV cameras. Cue fury around the cricket playing world, and ire from Australia's prime minister.

  • Positive spin

    Why spinners are enjoying a purple patch in cricket

    by M.J.

    BEING a spinner is tough. Unlike fast bowlers, who usually occupy three or four berths in the starting 11, spinners generally compete for one spot. Modern batsmen look to slog their loopy 50mph (80kph) deliveries out of the park from the first over. These are far less intimidating than the 90mph missiles that fast bowlers hurl at head height. The sort of pitch that spinners play on has a big influence on their effectiveness—they are useless on early-season grassy tracks in England, on which a turning ball refuses to grip. Sending down plodding balls for hours with no lateral movement to beat the bat can be a wearisome task.

    Yet spinners are currently enjoying a prolonged purple patch.

  • World rankings in tennis

    Despite an abbreviated schedule, Roger Federer rules the roost

    by J.S.

    THE men’s tennis season is one of the most arduous slogs in professional sports. Most players kick off their season the first week of each new year in Australia, then travel the globe to compete multiple times a month in an attempt to qualify for the year-end championships, held in London in mid-November. The off-season is barely worthy of the name, and is often insufficient for competitors to recover from a year’s worth of nagging injuries, not to mention developing new skills and tactics for a fresh campaign.

  • Upsets in college basketball

    The maddest March: at last, a 16-seed upsets a number one

    by D.R.

    THE line separating the improbable from the impossible is hard to pin down. The annual single-elimination tournament to crown the champion of North America’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in men’s basketball is known as “March Madness”, thanks to the steady diet of upsets it produces. Every year, a few ragtag gangs of fresh-faced students from little-known universities, likely destined for mundane careers in accounting, sales or the like, somehow manage to topple a heavily favoured juggernaut packed with future National Basketball Association stars.

  • A screening test

    How to solve football’s video-refereeing problems

    by J.T.

    ADDING a video-assistant referee (VAR) to the officiating staff at football matches was supposed to drag the game into the 21st century. The sport’s rulebook was first codified in 1863, making it one of the oldest of all. But the version used today makes no mention of video replays, which have aided referees in most other team sports for decades. That might change on March 3rd at the 132nd annual general meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB). IFAB is recognised as the guardian of the rulebook by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

  • Baseball economics

    Savvy or collusion? Why baseball’s free-agent market has turned ice-cold

    by J.S.

    BACK in 1987, Andre Dawson, a star outfielder in Major League Baseball (MLB), was looking for a change of scenery. After spending a full decade with the Montreal Expos, he was at last a free agent, able to sign with any team he chose. The Expos had finished third-to-last in attendance during the previous season, and their stadium featured an artificial-turf playing surface that aggravated his balky knees. At 31 years old, Mr Dawson surely had at least a few more productive years in him. Nonetheless, not a single club save for his previous employer made him an offer.

  • Ice hockey at the Olympics

    By abandoning the Olympics, the NHL has done Russia a favour

    by J.S. | GANGNEUNG

    EVER since 1998, when North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) began putting its season on hold to allow its players to participate in the Olympics, men’s ice hockey has been a signature sport at the winter games. Elite squads from Canada, the home country of nearly half of the players in the NHL, took gold medals in 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi. And from 1998 to 2014, every men’s ice-hockey medal has gone to Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, or the United States—not coincidentally, the six countries best represented on NHL rosters.

  • No movement in the channels

    Domestic demand to televise the Premier League might have peaked

    by T.A.W.

    THE English Premier League (EPL), football’s wealthiest division, has long seemed like an ever-quickening fountain of riches. Between 2010 and 2017 the EPL’s annual income doubled to roughly £4.4bn ($6.2bn) according to Deloitte, a consultancy. The fastest growth in that period came from domestic broadcasting revenues for live matches, which almost trebled, from £594m a year to £1.71bn. This year’s auction for the right to show games on British television between 2019 and 2022 was expected to deliver yet another rise, thanks to an increase in games on sale from 168 to 200 and rumoured interest from online giants like Amazon and Facebook.

  • Halfpipe dreams

    How to predict winners at the winter Olympics

    by J.T.

    FANS of winter sports are used to paying close attention to forecasts. Few would fancy taking to the slopes in howling gusts of 50mph (80kph) or temperatures that have fallen to -26˚C (-14˚F) with wind chill. Such conditions have caused the postponement of several events at the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which opened on February 9th. Increasingly warm winters are threatening the futures of many ski resorts around the world, but in Pyeongchang the artificial snow cannons are firing for the opposite reason. The air is so cold and dry that snowfall is scarce, with just seven days of it in February last year.

  • Unrequited glove

    Why football’s goalkeepers are cheap and unheralded

    by T.A.W.

    FOOTBALL fans have become used to seeing transfer records broken, as Europe’s top clubs have enjoyed a decade of rapid growth in revenues. The latest transfer window, a month-long mid-season affair which closed on February 3rd, offered further proof of a bull market. The teams in Europe’s “big five” leagues, in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy, spent an unprecedented £815m ($1.15bn) on acquiring new players. The three most expensive transfers ever have all been completed in the last six months. Yet despite this prolonged spree, one long-standing milestone has yet to be passed. The record for the most expensive goalkeeper is still unmoved after 16 years.

About Game theory

The politics, economics, science and statistical analysis of the games we play and watch

Advertisement

Advertisement

Products and events


Take our weekly news quiz to stay on top of the headlines


Visit The Economist e-store and you’ll find a range of carefully selected products for business and pleasure, Economist books and diaries, and much more

Advertisement