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Cultures of violence on the soccer pitch

- October 29, 2008

bq. Can some acts of violence be explained by a society’s cultural norms? Scholars have found it hard to empirically disentangle the effects of cultural norms, legal institutions, and poverty in driving violence. We address this problem by exploiting a natural experiment offered by the presence of thousands of international soccer (football) players in the European professional leagues. We find a strong relationship between the history of civil conflict in a player’s home country and his propensity to behave violently on the soccer field, as measured by yellow and red cards. This link is robust to region fixed effects, country characteristics (e.g., rule of law, per capita income), player characteristics (e.g., age, field position, quality), outliers, and team fixed effects. Reinforcing our claim that we isolate cultures of violence rather than simple rule-breaking or something else entirely, there is no meaningful correlation between a player’s home country civil war history and performance measures not closely related to violent conduct.

That’s the abstract of a fascinating new study by Edward Miguel, Sebastian M. Saiegh, and Shanker Satyanath. You can check out the full study here.

(By the way, the player being red-carded in the clip above is Teddy Lucic, born and raised in Sweden and shown playing for the Swedish national team. Sweden isn’t a nation known for its culture of violence. But maybe it matters (or maybe it doesn’t) that Lucic’s father was Croatian.)

[Hat tip to James Fowler]

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